Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Taliban Talks: You Can't Say It's An Idea Whose Time Hasn't Come

Michael Petrou of Macleans magazine has very succinctly enumerated a few very simple questions about the proposition that Afghanistan's agony can be remedied by negotiating some sort of bargain with the Taliban - the "conventional wisdom" that Stephen Lewis was only the latest to admonish us to credit to the New Democrats' lately deceased party leader. Petrou also notices something flimsy about the edifice:

"Jack Layton, one of the first politicians in Canada to advocate dealing with the Taliban, cited Pakistan’s peace talks with the Taliban in that country as a model of what could be pursued in Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s experience was a disaster. The Taliban broke every deal they agreed to, using the resulting ceasefires to gather their forces and push closer toward Islamabad. The Pakistan government and military were eventually forced to confront them, but only after they had surrendered large swaths of Pakistani territory to women-hating decapitators. There’s little reason to believe Afghanistan’s Taliban are more trustworthy."

That last sentence is a figure of speech known as a meiosis, which is a kind of humorous understatement. It is a modest way of coping with the complete absence of any evidence that the Taliban have ever entered into any truce arrangement of any description anywhere except for the explicit purpose of breaking it later at their convenience. All the evidence shows that the Taliban have gone on to break every deal they've ever struck with anyone, and that includes the deals they struck with Lakhdar Brahimi while he was the UN's Special Envoy to them during their most savage and genocidal years in Afghanistan, between 1997 and 1999. Would it be offensive and inappropriate and too soon to mention that Brahimi was the very man the late Jack Layton proposed to lead the NDP's Taliban-talks racket in Kabul? I hope not.

I'd like to be open-minded about this, but if I am going to be told to believe in faeries, the evidence of crumbly dragonfly wings won't do. If I am asked to believe in unicorns, being shown the pointy end of a narwhal tusk will not be enough. On the other hand, if we are to be persistently admonished by the demands of hagiography to give the late Jack Layton every credit for being the first politician of any standing in North America to pinch from, present as his own invention and heartily espouse a negotiations formula composed by Aghan crypto-fascists, Khomeinists, Arab League racketeers and the dodgier generals of the Pakistani ISI, then maybe we should be generous enough to just do it.

Reasonable people may give the late Jack his due for such a distinction, but not everyone is going to go along with the fairytale that there was anything progressive, innovative, made-in-Canada or "in keeping with Canadian values" about any of it. In the labour of competing with Talibs for the slippery loyalties of the gangland bosses who make up his Pashtun power base, Hamid Karzai has been relying on it as his preferred work-avoidance mechanism since 2004. Long before Layton and the NDP's Paul Dewar put their licence plate on it, the Arab League's Mokhtar Lamani, best known for securing a deal between the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Christian rightists of the early Bush years to keep gay rights and birth control off the UN agenda, had nearly driven it into the ground. It's been a make-work project and an agenda-filler for every big-turbaned Khomeinist imam and every lowbrow jackass warlord from Persepolis to Peshawar since September 11, 2001.

Lauryn Oates suggests that it is high time we all agreed to get real about what's actually going on here. What do we imagine the Taliban want out of "peace" negotiations, anyway? "What the Taliban want, they already have: violence. They merely want more of it, with fewer restrictions. Foreign armies, democracy, humanitarian agencies – all of these are major nuisances when you wish to lay down Islamo-fascist law and brutally subdue a population. . . for the Taliban, violence is not a means to an end, but the end itself."

The Taliban have made it quite plain, by word and deed, that they have no intention of negotiating anything except the general outlines of the civilized world's capitulation to them and the forward-planning terms of NATO's surrender of the Afghan people to their custody.

Again to give credit where it's due, it's sure starting to seem like an idea whose time has come. At the confluence of some of the most powerful forces in the rich countries of the world, from the Tea Party mental cases of the US Republican Party to the Troops Out celebrities among Obama Democrats, to Chinese state bankers and Guardian editorialists, there is now more than enough motive and an open field of opportunity to sell Afghans back into slavery as cheaply and as quickly as appearances will allow. In the NATO capitals, to be politically sophisticated on the Afghan question is now merely a function of how talented you are at making the taxpayers feel good about themselves as they do so.


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