At London Afghanistan conference, US, allies target strategy and cost to buy off Taliban
The US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan are moving toward a greater commitment to making peace with the Taliban, including paying some of them off and finding a home for others in the Afghan security forces.
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But is $500 million sufficient to make a big difference? That's a lot of money in Afghanistan. The World Bank estimates that Afghanistan's gross domestic product is worth about $10 billion, so 5 percent of GDP is nothing to sneeze at. And against the total cost of the wars, it's a downright bargain. The Congressional Research Service says the total price tag of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now stands at about $1 trillion.Skip to next paragraph
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But will it work? On that, the jury is still out. A McClatchy story Wednesday points out that some of the Taliban, including senior leader Mullah Omar, are based out of Pakistan and conduct operations across the border from there. Negotiating with these men will probably require also dealing with Pakistan and its Interservices Intelligence (ISI), which has at times worked closely with Taliban units. That's something Mr. Karzai may be loath to do.
There is also the problem of which Taliban, and how many of them. The Council on Foreign Relations estimated last August that there are at most 10,000 Taliban members in Afghanistan, but of those, only a few thousand are "active" fighters. The leadership of these men is fragmented, broken down along both geographic and tribal lines, as well as ones of personality. Though Mullah Omar is the titular leader of the Taliban, he does not exercise full control over all of these group.
But there are growing signs that seeking to bring at least some elements of the Taliban into the new Afghan system is likely to yield dividends. The Taliban are largely ethnic Pashtuns, and while they're typically very religious, their goals are generally national, unlike the Manichean world view of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers, who believe they're in a global war for the survival and spread of Islam.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported on an interview with Omar bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's estranged sons. The younger Bin Laden, who lived in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, said Mullah Omar and the Taliban are purely allies of convenience with his father's movement.
"Although Al Qaeda and the Taliban organizations band together when necessary, they do not love one another," he told Reuters in an e-mail. "If there were no more enemies left on earth, I believe they would fight each other."