After months of consideration on how to deal with our escalating engagement in the AF-Pak region, Obama’s administration has decided:
“the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement”
An article in the Washington Post yesterday cites the administrations re-vamped goal of mitigating a Taliban capacity to interfere in the establishment of a stable Afghan government while assuring us that Al Qaeda is the primary threat, and our strategy will focus squarely on eradicating them.
It seemed news on Pakistan in the past year revolved around Islamabad not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban; equating the group to Al Qaeda in terms of importance in the War on Terror. But today marks a clear departure from such criticism. Distinguishing Al Qaeda from the Taliban is a huge step forward for the United States. Because connecting our goals to eliminate both immediate security threats and major elements of Afghan society that are unpalatable to our values, has proven counter productive. Having lived in Pakistan to experience the ill effects of hyper conservative religious factions, I know we mean well in trying to uproot extremism, but it just hasn’t worked in tandem with our military offensive. And I’ve mentioned the importance of a distinction between these groups previously:
The Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but the Taliban has national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions.
It’s not a novel contention, but only just being reflected in policy, and I think it has potential for success. As an ideological force, the Taliban foster an ultra conservative brand of Islam, but are not necessarily a threat to our security interests. Plus, if General McChrystal’s goal is defined as establishing a sustainable, democratic Afghan government, in order for it to be considered legitimate, it must be rooted in Afghan values and according to Afghan preferences. Such preferences might seem backward, or entirely unpleasant to us, but so long as our interests are being protected, impressing our brand of democratic values should take a back seat for the time being. I think the Obama administration has taken a wise step in revamping the Af-Pak strategy and hope it yields lasting success.