WASHINGTON: The new US strategy for Afghanistan aims at taking advantage of shifting loyalties within the country’s tribal set-up for putting pressure on the Taliban leadership, says Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley.
At a briefing at the State Department over the weekend, the senior US official explained how the United States planned to approach a new initiative launched in London on Thursday for reintegrating the Taliban in the Afghan mainstream.
Mr Crowley said that in the Afghan tradition, there were “shifting alliances, depending on what is happening on the ground” and the US was trying to explore this tradition.
“Many of these want to be associated with the ultimate winner in the struggle,” said the official while explaining why some of these people would want to join the reintegration process.
“And that is expressly why we continue to work with the Afghan government, build up its capacity to vie for its own security, build up its capacity to deliver services to the Afghan people,” he said.
“In doing so, we think that confidence in and support for the Afghan government will rise and that will, over time, turn the tide against the insurgency.”
Mr Crowley said that a $1 billion fund set up in London last week to win over the Taliban fighters was “fully consistent with our strategy of trying to build up capacity within the Afghan government and provide it resources so that we can begin to peel away the foot soldiers who we think we are not ideologically committed” to the Taliban movement.
Explaining why the fund would help, Mr Crowley pointed out that “the Taliban for the moment is paying better than the Afghan government” and perhaps that’s why some of the fighters had joined the group.
The second step in the process of reintegration, he said, would be putting additional pressure on the leadership of the Taliban through a political process.
“The Taliban is a kind of a mixed grouping of disparate elements, and we think that there can be an opportunity through a political process, one that is Afghan led, to try to see who among these leaders are willing to make a fundamental change in their approach,” he explained. “And we will support this.”
Mr Crowley noted that President Hamid Karzai had already taken the first step towards this political process by announcing his decision to hold a grand peace Jirga for this purpose.
The Jirga, he said, was a traditional Afghan mechanism for reconciling competing views and that’s important.
The United States, however, had “some concerns” about this process and had already conveyed those concerns to the Afghan government, he added.
“We think that as this moves forward, it should be based on the concepts that anyone who wants to reconcile and play a more constructive role in Afghanistan’s future must accept the constitution, renounce violence, and publicly break with extremist groups such as Al Qaeda.”Referring to a UN decision last week to remove five Taliban leaders from a terrorist list, Mr Crowley said that as the process of reintegration continued, more names could also be deleted from the UN list.
“As we gain more information, as we see adjustments on the ground, adjustments can be made to the list of those who we have concerns about, who have been associated with terrorism and extremist elements in the past,” he said.
The US official explained that the Afghan government’s peace offer to the Taliban was inconsistent with the US counter-insurgency strategy. “Ultimately, we need to have a political process that works in parallel with the military action that we’re taking with our allies and with the Afghan government to try to ultimately defeat this insurgency,” he said.