December 28, 2010

The Haqqani Opportunity from Registan.net by Joshua Foust

Registan.net: The Haqqani Opportunity -
The most common response to my public about-face and decision to sign onto a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is “how will you accomplish this?” It is a perfectly fair, reasonable question I hope Alex Strick van Linschoten and Gilles Dorronsoro, the two main drivers of the Call to Reason, answer some day soon.

I have my own answer, as well. Before General Petraeus took over the war, recall that the major story Generals McChrystal and Flynn—the commander and chief intelligence officer in Afghanistan, respectively—were telling writers like Robert Kaplan was that they were facing a “kinder, gentler Taliban.” What they meant was: Mullah Omar was behaving in many ways as if he was concerned with his own legitimacy. They also consider Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaludin Haqqani to be “absolutely salvageable.”

At the time—which was this past March, only nine months ago or so—I mocked the idea of incorporating them into any kind of reconciliation. Partly, this was because the good generals did not display a very firm grasp of who and what these groups actually were. MG Flynn, for example, seemed unable to distinguish between Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin, the insurgent group with an egotist leader desperate for relevance, and Hezb-i Islami, the mostly-legitimate political party that feeds candidates into the Afghan parliament (they are most certainly not the same). Similarly, I mocked the idea that the Haqqanis were really getting tired of fighting and were ready to negotiate, precisely because they operated so effectively and so lucratively in the east. It was something they just said, with no evidence or reason to believe them.
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