Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Are Rank and File Taliban Ready For Peace? Theo Farrell Thinks so.

Theo Farrell is a very serious guy.  I met him when he was the Head of the illustrious Department of War Studies at Kings's College London.  He is now Professor of International Security and Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at City, University of London.  He a deeply credible voice in national security issues, and his views should be given great credence.  As he explains in a new War on the Rock post (a great national security resource, by the way), after talking to members of the Taliban, he thinks that a serious, but different, peace initiative, rather than more troops is likely to lead to peace in Afghanistan.

First, he describes discussions with the Taliban that he and Michael Semple had:

Our talks were held over ten days at a location outside of Afghanistan. We engaged in lengthy iterative interviews with each person over many hours. Our interviewees represented all of the major networks in the Taliban except the Haqqanis and included two former Taliban deputy ministers, two former Taliban provincial governors, and a former front commander. We published our findings last month in a report for the Royal United Services Institute. Our headline is that the Taliban is in disarray. Far from emboldened by their battlefield successes of the past two years, a great many among the Taliban rank-and-file are disillusioned. They have lost faith in the war following the withdrawal of Western combat forces that, as one put it, “has nothing to offer but destruction and the slaughter of Afghans.” Ramping up the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan risks re-injecting a sense of purpose into the Taliban war effort. Semple and I conclude that the time is right to explore peace talks with the Taliban, but in a completely new and different way.
 .  .  .
Viewed from the perspective of the Taliban rank and file, things don’t look good. Battlefield successes have not come cheap: Our interviewees highlighted heavy Taliban losses, in particular in Farah, Faryab, Helmand, Uruzgan, and Kunduz provinces. The new leader is weak and many worry for the future of the movement. The war continues but with no end in sight. There is no plan for converting tactical victories into political success, and there is no confidence in Haibatullah’s ability to produce such a plan. Added to this is growing distaste among many Taliban for the un-Islamic behaviour of some commanders, who mercilessly target civilians. As one Taliban interviewee with close links to the Quetta Shura observed, “now the ranks of the movement are very vulnerable because they don’t know where they are going and what will happen tomorrow.”
He then concludes that the Taliban is ready to discuss peace now. Such peace discussions, however, will be effective only of a "bottom-up", rather than a top down  approach is taken:

Given the widespread disillusionment among Taliban with the conduct and direction of the war, Semple and I conclude that the time is right to make peace. However, a new approach is required. Previously, the United States has tried to deal directly with the Taliban senior leadership. Under Haibatullah, this is a non-starter. In our paper, Semple and I outline an approach, which we call “insurgent peace-making” that would out-maneuver a divided Taliban senior leadership. This would involve a peace process open to all Taliban with standing within their own network, and able to speak for a sizable group of fighters, and who are looking for a negotiated end to the conflict. The basic idea would be to assemble a broad Taliban pro-peace coalition.
Read it all here. You can find a more complete report discussing the interviews with the Taliban here.

As Theo Farrell himself points out, these views are contrary to the views of both "Commanders in Afghanistan and military pundits in Washington", who argue that we need to gain the upper hand militarily before the Taliban would take peace talks seriously.  What do you think?

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