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An Afghan Awakening?

Last week a former UN envoy to Afghanistan tried to tell me that average Pashtuns and other Afghans don’t really mind the Taliban and would therefore never side with the U.S. against them. One should show little tolerance for such arguments. They are contradicted by all recent polls of Afghan opinion, and depend on a chilling ignorance of things like this:

Taliban militants fighting the Afghan government in the latest wave of violence have beheaded two civilians in the western Farah province, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.

“The armed Taliban fighters kidnapped five persons in Khak-e-Safid district of Farah district Monday and beheaded two and released the remaining three after a few hours,” Arman-e-Millie said, Xinhua reported.

Evidence of blissful coexistence, no doubt. Here’s more, courtesy of Dexter Filkins in today’s New York Times: “American and Afghan officials have begun helping a number of anti-Taliban militias that have independently taken up arms against insurgents in several parts of Afghanistan, prompting hopes of a large-scale tribal rebellion against the Taliban. . . The plan echoes a similar movement that unfolded in Iraq, beginning in late 2006, in which Sunni tribes turned against Islamist extremists.”

Critics often say there is no clearly defined goal in Afghanistan. I submit that if anti-Taliban sentiment there were parlayed into something that resembles the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, it would mark the achievement of a goal almost too welcome to hope for: Afghanistan’s organic inoculation against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Here’s the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Sunnis realized that coalition forces were a) the strong horse, and b) sticking around. In Afghanistan, brave civilians taking up arms against the Taliban have no such reassurances. In fact, one hopes they didn’t hear President Obama say he’s “not interested in . . . sending a message that America—is here [in Afghanistan] for— for the duration.” Let’s also hope they didn’t hear Hillary Clinton say that “we have no long-term stake” in Afghanistan. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal put it, “A perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.” If in reality our resolve proves to be uncertain then we will have squandered an invaluable gift.

In any case, let’s stop this talk of tribal peoples who love their tormentors.



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