There is a series of responses in yesterday’s New York Times titled: Is It Time to Negotiate With the Taliban? I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a quick and dirty overview on what is going on politically.
In all, I find both Mr. Jalali’s and Mr. Ross’ stances the most tenable. There is a faction of the Taliban that are going to be more moderate, and them we must sway to our side. There is the other portion, the fanatics, who there is only one solution for: to hunt them down. These are the same people who destroyed the ancient Bhuddist statues, would repress women’s rights, and gave shelter and succour to Osama bin Laden. They have aided the Al-Qaeda.
However, in order to win over the moderates, and the rest of the Afghani population, we need to focus on the economic situation. In order to win the broad war, we must destroy the opium trade by creating mechanisms where the farmers can grow more useful crops. This will help undercut the financial support flowing to the Taliban. We must also help cut funding to the radical madrassas on the Pakistani border. And we must slowly help the Afghani people develop trust in government.
In part, Afghanistan has the battles it has faced since the Soviet invasion in the 70’s due to US aid. There is also the sheer diverse nature of the country, which to a certain extent would defy the borders placed in the region. I do not know if Afghanistan will ever be able to form a strong central government. If anything, it will probably end up a loose federal state with strong tribal authority. Much like my suspicions over Iraq, except a much looser organization with even more divergent groups.
This being said, I do think that General McChrystal is on the right track. Economic development to help win hearts and minds. Its been the missing ingredient from the US-Afghanistan equation since the road from Kandahar to Kabul was completed, shortening travel time to a day (even if a long one) for the first time. More roads, linking the cities so trade can develop, and a stronger economy is the surest way to start building broader support so that moderate Afghanis can win, for themselves, and for Afghanistan.