October is fast approaching, and with it the ninth anniversary of US and UK involvement in Afghanistan. A campaign launched to eradicate al-Qaeda and the Taleban inter alia in 2001 seems, in 2010, to have made only limited progress.
The apparent ineffectuality of entering into conflict in this mountainous pocket of the Middle East is not without considerable historical precedent; for centuries forces have fought – and lost – campaigns in the region, few ending more disastrously than the first Anglo-Afghan War in which Major-General Elphinstone led British forces to slaughter at the hands of the Ghilzai warriors of Afghanistan in 1842. Elusiveness of military victory has been the rule, not the exception, in Afghanistan and this is a mantra which looks set to continue long into the 21st century.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that so much talk recently has focused upon the prospect of negotiating with the Taleban. In March this year, the Washington Post carried a story which revealed that David Miliband had issued calls for “early and substantive political negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Taleban”, a call which grew out of a pre-existing desire to see “moderate” insurgents brought into talks.
What ostensibly began as a debating point regarding the merits of appeasement has made a firm impression upon politicians, not least the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Fraser Nelson points to the words of author Ahmed Rashid, who avers that Karzai “seems to have given up on the ability of the Americans, the Brits and Nato either to defeat the Taleban or even to talk to them. This is why he has turned to Pakistan and Iran: his own freelance attempt to try to broker a ceasefire with the Taleban which would involve a power-sharing deal."