Seven steps to a secure Afghanistan
Work with Karzai, stop calling the Taliban 'terrorists,' weigh in on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, convene a security meeting on Al Qaeda, focus on Kashmir, make sure to target terrorists in Afghanistan, and take on the heroin trade.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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In Riyadh, it is clear that the Taliban are not becoming more popular in Afghanistan, as some have claimed. Their record in government is well remembered by Afghans who, including large numbers of the Pashtun, suffered greatly at the hands of Mullah Omar's Taliban cohorts.
Nor are the Taliban a cohesive or uniform political party, with a chain of command and a political manifesto. Rather, any disaffected, rebellious, or aggrieved Afghan who overtly opposes the government by military means and otherwise has come to be identified as Taliban.
Nor is merely disabling Osama bin Laden enough, as some suggest. He has become not only the symbol of opposition to the world order, in general, and the US, in particular, but he is looked upon by disaffected youth – and not just Muslims – as the indomitable, untouchable, and indestructible Robin Hood. Even if he did not organize and execute terrorist acts, the fact that he survives, every day, reinforces that appeal and adds to his charisma. Bringing him to account is a necessity, not a choice, whether by capture or by death.
What should Mr. Obama and the US do?
First, overcome the misguided handling of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was initially shunned and denigrated by the administration, forcing him to reach out to unsavory politicos and "warlords" in order to win the recent elections. If there were a viable opposition to him, then you could undermine him. But there is not.
Abdullah Abdullah, President Karzai's main opponent in the election, is a Tajik, and in Afghan terms will not be accepted to lead the country by either the Pashtuns or the Uzbeks, the two largest components of Afghanistan's tribal structure.
Mr. Abdullah's "westerly ways" further undermined his credibility among nationalists. Once the commission investigating the election fraud declares its conclusions, the US should move on and concentrate on setting benchmarks for Karzai, especially on development projects.
Second, change the media theme from attacking the Taliban and calling them terrorists to concentrating on Al Qaeda and "foreign terrorists." By removing the stigma of terrorism from the Taliban, you can pursue meaningful negotiations with them. Mullah Omar has never enjoyed the full support of the Pashtuns. He is a lowly figure, in tribal terms, and he is blamed by many of them for the calamity that has befallen Afghanistan. Reaching out to the tribal leaders is what will move negotiations.
Third, fix the Durand Line. As long as this border drawn by the British is not fixed, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be at loggerheads, with suspicion between them being the rule. That is why Pakistan, in 1995, created the Taliban, because they wanted the Afghan Pashtuns to be on their side.