Maybe Layton Was Right About Afghanistan
Date: Saturday, March 17 2007
Peace deal with the Taliban only way out, analyst says
Mar 17, 2007 04:30 AM
When New Democratic Party chief Jack Layton suggested last fall that talking to the Taliban might bring peace to Afghanistan, he was laughed out of court.
The major newspapers dismissed him as either naive or reprehensible. The Conservative government was contemptuous, as were the Liberals.
They called him Taliban Jack.
Eventually, Layton stopped talking about negotiating with the Taliban. Which is ironic, given that the idea is now gaining credibility among those who travel in more established circles.
Indeed, the latest figure to call for a political settlement to the Afghan conflict is a pillar of the Ottawa establishment. Gordon Smith, now director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, is Canada's former ambassador to NATO and a former deputy minister of foreign affairs. His Canada in Afghanistan: Is it Working? was done for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary think-tank that is not known for being squishy on matters military.
Unlike Layton, Smith does not say Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan. Quite the contrary. He writes that Canadian troops should remain there past 2009 as part of the NATO-led force.
But he also writes that the current NATO strategy of trying to defeat the Taliban militarily cannot work.
"We do not believe that the Taliban can be defeated or eliminated as a political entity in any meaningful time frame by Western armies using military measures," he says.
The reasons for this are fourfold. First, the Taliban are still the dominant force among Pashtuns in Afghanistan's south, where Canadian troops are operating. NATO bęte noire Mullah Omar "remains unchallenged as leader of the Taliban," Smith writes. "There is no alternative representing Pashtun interests who has more clout than he."
Second, neighbouring Pakistan "is highly ambivalent about crushing the Taliban insurgency." While technically on NATO's side in this matter, important elements of the Pakistani state apparatus, Smith writes, continue to support the Taliban as their proxy in Afghanistan – mainly as a way to fend off what they see as hostile Russian and Indian influences.
To destroy the Taliban would be to end Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, he says – which perhaps explains Islamabad's less than total support for the NATO mission.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on March 19, 2007]