Kipling’s Wisdom

LONDON – The beginning of October marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the American-led bombardment of Afghanistan. Seven years later, the Taliban are still fighting. Some 50 insurgents died recently in an assault on Lashkar gar, the capital of Helmand province. Osama bin Laden is nowhere to be found. Has the time come for NATO to declare victory and leave?

Recently, a French diplomatic cable relating a conversation on September 2 between the French ambassador to Afghanistan, Francois Fitou, and his British colleague, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was leaked in Le Canard Enchainé , a French satirical magazine. Cowper-Coles was reported to have said that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, that NATO’s presence was making it worse, and that the two American presidential hopefuls should be dissuaded from getting bogged down further. The only realistic policy would be to cultivate an “acceptable dictator.” Of course, the British Foreign Office denied that these thoughts reflected the British government’s views.

The departing commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, has claimed that defeating the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable.” Two days after making that gloomy assessment, the French chief of the defense staff, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, followed suit. And Kai Eide, the United Nations Secretary-General’s special representative in Afghanistan, has agreed that the situation cannot be stabilized by military means alone. All call for a concerted political effort implying some form of negotiation with the Taliban.

A draft report by American intelligence agencies has also concluded that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the Afghan government’s ability to stem the Taliban’s resurgence. Moreover, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted a Ramadan breakfast for the Afghan government and Taliban representatives. Predictably, both parties deny that any serious negotiations took place, while the United States and Britain claimed to know nothing about this “Saudi initiative.” But Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak subsequently said that resolution of the conflict required a “political settlement” with the Taliban.