Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why The Taliban Should Become A Political Party

As 2011 marked the ten-year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the dismantling of the oppressive Taliban forces there, this year provides an interesting look at the successes and shortcomings of the past decade spent in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein is now long gone from power in Iraq, and Hamid Karzai has managed to hold on as President in Afghanistan with his democratic, albeit highly corrupt government. And for several years, the Taliban was no longer a primary concern in the region. However, now a decade later, it appears that the Taliban is more insidious of an entity than the United States had previously imagined. Taliban-related casualties and terrorist attacks have steadily increased over the past two years, with April and May this year being some of the deadliest in response to the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.  Furthermore, the Taliban have damaged relations between the United States and Pakistan, as the latter has been increasingly accused by the former of harboring the Taliban as they continue their terrorist attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Disappointingly, it’s beginning to seem as though the vitality of the Taliban is no more deteriorated as it was ten years ago when the first C.I.A. troops landed in Northern Afghanistan, a sign that hard military power will not be the solution in eliminating Taliban threats to the region. Instead, the U.S. should look towards the alternative approach of soft diplomatic power, and seek to legitimize the Taliban as a political entity rather than a solely terrorist one. Obviously, this is a risky move to make – the Taliban is notoriously known for their extremist limitations of women’s rights, violent persecution of opposition to their causes, and a general abhorrence of the Western world. Providing them with the means to pursue these sentiments in the political arena could prove to be a fatal mistake. On the other hand, continuing to exhaust financial and military resources fighting a guerilla war against Islamist extremists in the Middle East will ultimately prove to be a failure. With so few options on the table, it would be in the best interest of the United States to explore the alternative and hope for a successful outcome.

This will not be the first time a militant organization has undergone the transformation into a political party, and in the past it has often worked. In 1992, after a little over a decade of armed conflict in Lebanon, the militant faction Hezbollah decided to participate in parliamentary elections. Today, they continue to participate democratically in the Lebanese government, while also implementing their own social reforms in the country as well as throughout the Muslim and Arab world. While Hezbollah has admitted to having ties with the Islamic Jihad Organization, terrorist attacks by Hezbollah itself have decreased significantly since their entry into politics. Hamas is another example of a somewhat successful transformation from wholly militant faction into political party. Yes, Hamas continues to execute military attacks on neighboring Israel, but as a political party, it has made several important steps towards Palestine becoming a United Nations-recognized state. Most notably, Hamas and their rival party Fatah signed an agreement in Cairo in late May of this year agreeing to form a unity government and essentially paving the way to a democratic election process sometime next year. This type of progression would not be seen if Hamas continued operating solely as a violent, militaristic entity with the sole purpose of fighting Israel. The two remain bellicose, but more often than not, diplomacy is implemented rather than physical violence. And speaking of Cairo, it was just this past week that Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood was democratically elected by the people of Egypt to become the new President of Egypt. Widely considered a terrorist organization, the fact that Morsi was even permitted to run in the elections this year was perceived cautiously but much of the Western world. However, Morsi has vowed to support the people in any way he can, and has promised equality that will transcend religion, gender, and race. While these may be empty appeals to the people who just elected him, Morsi has shown willingness to progress Egypt in a democratic fashion that will hopefully allow further industrialization and economic development for the country.
Examples aside, there are important reasons to legitimize the Taliban as a political entity and begin allowing them to participate in Afghan politics. This transition will primarily have the effect of diminishing Taliban-related terrorist attacks in the reason because as a political party, the Taliban will have too much responsibility and too much on the line to risk losing their credibility. By putting the power to participate democratically in the Taliban’s hands, the world would be giving them the role of policing their own, more militaristic individual supporters. As it stands now, the Taliban has no reason to prevent terrorist attacks, even if many Taliban supporters are more peaceful individuals. Terrorism is their only way of asserting power for the time being, and so they perceive it as in their best interest to continue asserting their power in such fashion. However, once the Taliban is asserting their power diplomatically, there reliance on terrorist attacks decreases, and those in command of the Taliban will have more reason to prevent such attacks. Furthermore, the move to legitimize the Taliban will serve as a precedent for other similar organizations, just as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood as served as precedents. Obviously, there will be highly dangerous, violent terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda whose sole existence is founded on facilitating violent attacks that frighten the mass populations of the world. It is unlikely, or even irresponsible, to assume that these organizations will someday become legitimate political parties in their respective countries. However, some of the warlords in Somalia, for example, could benefit from entering into peaceful, diplomatic dialogues with one another and working towards a unified, democratic state. Observing an organization like the Taliban benefiting from such political emergence could help foster a greater desire to reach a similar goal elsewhere. Finally, as the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is on the verge of collapsing altogether, relieving the pressure of Pakistan harboring Taliban insurgents would be exponentially beneficial. Since Pakistan seems reluctant to address this issue, and continues to question the validity behind it, this appears to be the only solution possible. There would be no reason for a legitimized political party to have to be “harbored” by any country in such a clandestine fashion.
Obviously there are strong arguments as to why this transition should be implemented. The other concern to address, however, is how such a difficult and controversial transition would ever take place. The good news is that Qatar’s efforts over the past six months have been paramount to the goal of achieving a Taliban diplomatic outlet. In January, Qatar announced that the Taliban would be opening a political office in their country, possibly opening the door for diplomatic talks with the Western world, and especially the United States. Qatar should be applauded; this is the appropriate example to set for some of the more secular and developed states in the region. Were this to work, the Middle Eastern states should be the only states with Taliban offices, at least for the time being. The Taliban is a far cry short of being a worldwide terrorist organization, and as most of their interests lie in Afghanistan, there would be no need for further expansion. Inclusion in world forums, however, would also be of great importance to the success of such a transition. A good example of this is a Taliban representative attending a global peace conference in Japan just this past week. As they begin to network with the rest of the world, their willingness to communicate diplomatically will only increase.
This past week alone, there were over fifty Taliban-related deaths in the Middle East. The ferocity and repetition with which the Taliban executes terrorist attacks is only increasing. While there were many positive results and several major victories for the U.S.-led coalition in the Middle East over the past decade, the elimination of the Taliban was not one of them. And finally, we have arrived at a difficult question to ask: as the U.S. troops gradually begin to leave Afghanistan, what exactly are they leaving behind? Military power was unsuccessful in quelling the resilient Taliban forces, and therefore, it is time to try something new. While creating a political platform for an organization such as the Taliban is controversial, and could easily backfire, it appears to be the lesser of two evils, and there has never been a better time than now to begin working towards establishing that platform.

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