Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

American Justice on Hold for the 9/11 Mastermind

Posted in United States by Dan on February 10, 2010

Does everyone remember Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the notorious mastermind of the September 11 attacks?  If not, maybe this will give you a hint; he is otherwise known as the Al’Qaeda operative who was responsible for the collapse of America’s two tallest buildings, which resulted in the killing of 3,000 innocent Americans on a clear Tuesday morning.

Of course you do.  Everyone in this country does…and with good reason; KSM has transformed into a household name for U.S. intelligence.  The families of the 9/11 victims view KSM as the most infamous killer in the history of New York City…indeed the most well-known killer in modern day U.S. history.

And just as KSM is known for his role in Al’Qaeda’s most successful terrorist operation, he is also a 21st century acronym for America’s next high-profile civilian trial, held just blocks away from Ground Zero.

Well, that was before Congressional Republicans and Conservative Democrats pressured the Obama administration to remove the trial from New York City.  All of those who were hoping that KSM would be brought to justice just minutes away from his crime are now sadly disappointed.

The New York Times and the National Interest have both reported that the Obama administration has asked the Justice Department to reconsider its location, going against its original recommendation of holding the KSM trial in a New York District courthouse.  And to make matters worse, President Obama is using the most meager of excuses; 1) the risk of terrorism during the trial is simply too high, and 2) the proceedings would cost around $200 million.

I, for one, am highly disappointed by this decision.  For the millions of Americans who consider the U.S. justice system as one of the most respected and distinguished in the world, this decision comes as a shocking anomaly.

Here is a rant that everyone may find interesting (and perhaps controversial):

What is the big deal of holding a civilian trial for KSM in a New York City-based federal court?  This is the big question that opponents of the measure have yet to answer in detail.  Is it because the trial would somehow unleash a wave of terrorism inside the city?  If so, I would not worry too much.  The New York City Police Department is the most well-trained and equipped in this country.  There are at least 40,000 NYPD officers throughout the city, with officers routinely called in from surrounding areas in New Jersey and Long Island if security issues get out of hand (luckily this has not happened since the September 11 attacks).

To be fair, the KSM trial does have the potential of becoming a security risk.  But let’s think for a moment.  The presidential convoy is a security risk, but this does not stop the President from traveling where he needs to be.  New Years Eve celebrations across the country are prime for terrorists, but this does not stop Americans from ushering in the new-year in a public-forum.  Concerts and sporting events are security risks as well, but hundreds of millions of Americans on an annual basis defy the odds in order to experience a good time.  How is the KSM trial any different?

And I don’t want to hear about costs.  Since when has this country cared about managing money?  We spend more on military expenditures then the next 13 countries combined; we sacrifice domestic programs for more advanced missiles; and we consistently send billions of dollars to our allies in economic and security incentives.  I highly doubt that a meager $200 million will make that much more of a difference.

While the decision is not final- and while the debate in Washington over the KSM proceedings are still ongoing- I hope the Obama administration does not waver in its civilian-approach.  KSM may be an enemy combatant- a politically correct term for a terrorist- but using the federal court system is the best way of demonstrating America’s dedication to the rule of law.

While giving KSM American liberties in a federal-court seems repugnant (and this sentiment is certainly understandable), it is the best technique to use if the United States wants to boast the principles of democracy.  More often than not, recruiters join Al’Qaeda and other militant groups as a response to American hypocrisy.  Osama bin-Laden & Company routinely portray the U.S. as a hypocritical superpower; on the one hand pledging human rights and on the other supporting  regimes that are known for human-rights abuses and political persecution(like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan for instance).  Holding a well-known terrorist in a civilian setting- with 5th Amendment rights and the right to an attorney- may help to slow the AQ recruitment process down a bit.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Newsweek’s Declassified

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War of Words Between Israel and Syria

Posted in Israel by Dan on February 8, 2010

Just in case anyone out there doubted whether Israel was sincere about Mideast peacemaking, take a glance at Avigdor Lieberman’s recent statement towards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:

“Our message must be clear to Assad: In the next war, not only will you lose but you and your family will lose power.”

On its face, bellicose rhetoric like this rubs international diplomats the wrong way.  Not only is the Israeli Foreign Minister threatening one of its neighbors by instigating a potential military confrontation, but he is also stopping peace talk momentum right in its tracks.  At a time when Israel is receiving especially harsh criticism from the United Nations over its conduct in last year’s Gaza offensive, comments like this do not necessarily help Israel’s cause.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply accept Lieberman’s remark in a nonchalant way and simply cast it aside as if nothing happened.  What we have to do- and what Arab Governments are already doing- is viewing Lieberman’s hostility through a much larger context.  Citing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the absence of any real Israeli-Arab peace accord, Arabs are coming to a simple conclusion; Israel is not interested in regional peace.

To a supporter of Israel, this statement sounds hallow and perhaps anti-Semitic.  Some lawmakers in the U.S. Congress may go one step further in totally denouncing the conclusion as nothing but anti-Israeli propaganda…which, by the way, is a P.R. phrase that is basically used to totally ignore the numerous grievances of Arab Governments and Palestinian citizens.  Still others accept Lieberman’s pointed reference as a legitimate warning to Syria if they ever initiated a conflict against Israeli interests.

On the other hand, rational people with actual credibility- like Mideast Envoy George Mitchell- can see through the smokescreen.  Instead of a direct warning to Israel’s enemies, perhaps Lieberman’s comment has a much larger function; creating dissolution in the hopes of further delaying Israeli-Arab reconciliation.  I happen to agree with this camp.

Whether you care about the current situation in the Middle East or not, it is hard to disprove the fact that Israel is the unchallenged hegemon in the region (although Iran would probably dispute this claim).  Compared to its Arab neighbors, Israel is in possession of the wealthiest and most efficient economy in the greater Middle East.  It receives billions upon billions of dollars in exports through its science and weapons industries, all the while racking in billions of dollars in American financial and military assistance on an annual basis.

From a military standpoint, the Israeli armed-forces are unchallenged in terms of sophistication, technology, and conventional fighting tactics.  The Israeli Defense Force is one of the most highly respected in the world, capable of subverting the most heavily fortified autocracy and skilled enough in destroying the Arab world’s most advanced defenses.  Israel’s version of the CIA- the Mossad- is unquestionably regarded as the most proficient in solving the most complex problems, whether it happens to be the sabotage of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip or the capturing of Iranian weapons depots in the Arabian Sea.

And of course, a discussion of Israeli supremacy would not be complete if we failed to touch upon the huge amount of lobbyists the small country maintains in the United States.

So perhaps Lieberman’s statement is not so much a declaration of war against Syria than an endorsement of the current status-quo.  Because let’s face it, the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians and the lethargic relationship with Arab regimes- in other words the status quo- continues to benefit the Jewish state in countless ways.

As long as the regional status-quo remains, Israel will continue to surpass its neighbors and enemies in all dimensions of power.  At least that’s their opinion.  Rational people in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East recognize that tension only generates more instability.  And if we have learned anything from history, it is that instability tends to snowball into full-fledging conflict.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Iran Accepts Nuclear Deal….JUST KIDDING, DON’T BELIEVE IT!!!

Posted in Iran by Dan on February 5, 2010

As if the Iranian nuclear stalemate could not get any more confusing, reports are suggesting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is once again open to a deal with the west.  Or, to take his own words into consideration, Iran has “no problem” in sending some of its enriched uranium overseas in exchange for higher-grade nuclear fuel.

What a turnaround by the Iranian Government!  Days ago, Tehran was churning up uranium just as it continued to spit right in the face of the United Nations.  The situation became so bleak that U.S. State officials spoke of the need to adopt a new approach to the Iranian nuclear program (and when I say new approach, I mean targeted sanctions).  The U.S. Congress even “upt-the-ante” by announcing bipartisan support for a bill that would sanction any company who worked with Iran.

With Ahmadinejad’s power threatened by a harsh American response, it appears that he has decided to magically cave-in to western demands and accept the U.N. nuclear deal on its face.  Sounds great.  Unfortunately, the very idea of Iranian compliance is comical.

I hate to add some realism to the story, but there is no way that President Ahmadinejad is sincere about a new nuclear bargain. Iran has been stonewalling the International Atomic Energy Agency (along with the United Nations) for close to five years, and now all of a sudden this same country is willing to export most of its uranium out of the country for 4-5 months? Really? Are we honestly going to believe this?  Ahmadinejad really must think that Americans like us are stupid.

At this point in time, there is no turning back for Tehran on the nuclear issue.  Iranian scientists have done all the leg work themselves and are now a screwdriver short of turning the fuse. After so much success in developing its nuclear program- a program that Iranians of all political affiliations support- Iran would be foolish to succumb to U.S. pressure now.

Heck, Ahmadinejad would be suicidal if he even thought that such a deal was worth the anguish, given the current political environment in Iran. Remember what happened when he agreed “in principle” to the original U.N. nuclear deal in October? He came back to Iran and got lambasted by Moussavi and his Green supporters for handing over the hard work of Iranians to westerners. The criticism was so great that Ahmadinejad was forced to reconsider.

I don’t know how many times I have said this, but it is worth repeating; the nuclear program is much more than a scientific project.  It is now a significant part of Iranian nationalism. And whenever nationalism is involved, getting what you want is exceedingly difficult.

-Daniel R. DePetris


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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**

A Retort to Dr. Richard Haass; Democracy Or Not, Iran’s Nuclear Program Is There To Stay

Posted in Iran by Dan on February 3, 2010

In Washington’s hustle-and-bustle atmosphere, it’s often hard to find an individual who is both non-partisan and deeply admired for pragmatic thinking.  Travel in all corridors of the capital and I guarantee you that one man’s (or woman’s) hero is another man’s (or women’s) villain.  Just to take an example, some people view President Obama as a man of deep strategic vision, while others across the street consider him an inexperienced politician who “appeases” his enemies (I use the word appease loosely in this context).

Thankfully, Dr. Richard Haass- a former director of policy planning at the State Department and current President of the CFR- is one such individual.  Well-known for his experience, candor, and pragmaticism, it is often hard to bypass Dr. Haass’ opinions when important foreign-policy problems are discussed.  Whether the issue concerns Iraq’s political future or Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban, officials and analysts tend to line up in front of his office to hear what Haass has to say.

I have come to expect this sort of rationality when I read Haass’ work in Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy.  This is why I was somewhat shocked when Dr. Haass did a complete 180-degree turn in his latest mass-media publication.  The topic at hand: Iran’s nuclear program.

The same CFR President that once called for calm and tolerance over the Iranian nuclear issue is now arguing for peaceful regime change.  With the Iranians continuing to stonewall the world’s nuclear demands- and with the Iranian people victim to their government’s oppressive policies- he vows that “enough is enough.”  Time for an about face in the President’s Iran policy; one that empowers Iranian democrats and creates schisms among Tehran’s ruling clerics.

There is only one problem with Dr. Haass’ new approach; there is no guarantee that a democratic Iran would view the nuclear program any differently.

It is all fine and dandy to promote regime change in Iran through peaceful means- like empowering the Iranian opposition, causing rifts among the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad alliance, and boosting internet access- but who is to say that a democratic Iran would act differently on the nuclear issue?  Unfortunately for the United States and its allies, evidence on the ground points to a regrettable answer; Iranians, despite their political and ideological orientations, support the country’s right for a nuclear capability.

Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami- the so called heads of the Green Movement- are fully supportive of an Iranian nuclear program.  In fact, there political weight is precisely why President Ahmadinejad back-peddled after he agreed “in-principle” to a nuclear deal created by the United Nations.

When Ahmadinejad and Iranian nuclear negotiators came back home from Vienna after a deal was struck, they were surprised to find outright opposition from the Mousavi coalition.  Threatened with an empowered Green Movement and the perception of giving away Iran’s nuclear program to western powers, Ahmadinejad renounced the U.N.-brokered agreement just days later.

Let’s take a step back and pretend that last summer’s Iranian presidential election was conducted in a free, fair, and legitimate way.  Mousavi would surely be elected president, but Iran’s foreign and defense policies would largely carry-on.  We have to remember that it is not the President of Iran, but the Supreme Leader that is in absolute control of Iranian foreign-policy.  Would Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really change his stance just because a reformist was elected by the people?  Taking his absolute authority into account- and the political support he has from conservatives and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- the answer is no.

If you want to speak in broad terms, regime change in Iran would be highly helpful for the United States, Israel, and its Arab allies in the Middle East.  Human rights, personal freedoms, Women’s rights, and political tolerance would undoubtedly improve.  But on issues the United States really cares about- like the nuclear program and U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf- a Green takeover would not do that much good.

As I have said before, the Iranian nuclear program is much more than a simple research project.  It’s transformed into an ever-lasting part of Persian nationalism.

-Daniel R. DePetris


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**Comments courtesy of Newsweek**

Reconciliation With the Taliban May Be Too Little Too Late

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on February 1, 2010

With the United States, Great Britain, and Germany extending their military campaigns in Afghanistan, the western-backed government of Hamid Karzai is on its last legs.

Politically, the landlocked Islamic country is divided between two equally fragmented sides; a Taliban Movement that continues to sweep into Afghan provinces and exert its authority, and a corrupt coalition of warlords and Karzai loyalists struggling to act as a legitimate government.  In fact, Afghan politics is so divided along tribal and sectarian lines that the parliament has twice rejected Karzai’s list of ministerial candidates.  And unfortunately, more tit-for-tat in Kabul leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Afghan citizens; many of whom already complain of dismal representation, inadequate personal freedoms, and a lack of personal safety.

Most of this could be managed if Afghanistan faced a weak and simple adversary.  But as is evident from the sophisticated violence and propaganda savvy of the enemy, Mullah Omar & Company is anything but one-dimensional.  In fact, Karzai’s government has become so incompetent on the national front that every blunder creates new opportunities and symbolic victories for the Taliban’s Shadow Government.

Socially, domestic infrastructure couldn’t be worse.  Healthy drinking water rarely circulates where it needs to be.  Electricity is virtually absent outside the capital city, impeding the type of entrepreneurism that could potentially strengthen the Afghan state.  Despite a crack-down on drug cultivation, Afghanistan is still the primary producer of opium for the world market.  And all of this comes at a time when neighboring Pakistan is preoccupied with its own Islamic-extremist problem.

So with all of these issues obstructing the U.S. mission (which has shifted from democracy building to counterinsurgency over the past year) world leaders have decided to unite together in London for a single purpose: divide the Taliban and reintegrate the insurgency’s rank and file back into mainstream Afghan culture.

Economic assistance and military resolve were obviously high on the meeting’s agenda.  The United States and Great Britain in particular have a vested interest in improving tactics and coordination on the battlefield.  But while both of these issues were indeed important, the primary objective of the Afghanistan summit was to create a reintegration campaign that could entice low and mid-level Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.

There is no question that a reconciliation strategy is needed in order to improve the overall situation in Afghanistan.  As global sentiment tells us, the U.S. is not the only one that wants such a strategy to take place.

The plan would promise Taliban fighters land and an economic lifesaver in exchange for an end to violence and realignment towards the central government.  A denunciation of Al’Qaeda would also be demanded if Taliban members want full criminal immunity (let’s remember that destroying Al’Qaeda sanctuaries was the original goal for the United States in Afghanistan).

With this bargaining approach, the hope is that a large swathe of Taliban fighters- those who joined the insurgency out of intimidation or economic pressure- would put down their guns and participate in the political process.  In theory, Mullah Omar and his core followers would then lose a vast portion of their membership, thereby weakening their position relative to Karzai and his coalition defenders.

A great strategy indeed.  I am hopeful that the international community can come to some sort of agreement on this issue.  The problem lies not in the plan per say, but rather the time it is being pursued.

Every right-minded scholar in South Asian affairs agrees that some sort of political deal in Afghanistan needs to take place.  Likewise, common sense dictates that conventional military tactics will not end the war in Afghanistan by itself.  This is one of the reasons why President Barack Obama signed General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for a new and revamped counterinsurgency approach.  But what people can debate is whether reconciliation with the Taliban will work given the present circumstances.

In almost every province, the Taliban Movement has established quasi-control over the Afghan population.  Sharia-sponsored courts have been rather effective at solving personal disputes between citizens; a judicial structure that the Afghan Government has yet to put into practice.  Attacks on government compounds and improvised-explosive devices aimed towards coalition troops occur on a regular basis.  And while the ASF vastly outnumbers the 25,000 or so Taliban insurgents, their quality is anything but satisfactory in terms of western standards.

What is more, Karzai’s supporters are highly polarizing individuals in the eyes of many Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks.  If parliament’s rejection of ministerial candidates is any indication, Karzai himself is a divisive figure.

In short, the U.S. and its allies are on their heels in virtually every single issue, while Taliban authorities continue to boost their credentials by taking advantage of Karzai’s mistakes.  Say what you want about the movement, but the Taliban is a talented organization.  They have managed to attain a certain level of security that all Afghans have been praying for.

When your enemy is in a position of strength, is there any incentive to give up the fight and surrender to the weaker side?  As long as the insurgents are able to coordinate with relative ease against soft government targets and U.S./NATO troops, foot soldiers sympathetic with the Taliban will view any reconciliation deal as an insult to their intelligence.

Think about it; if you were a 250 pound body builder in the ring against a 150 pound string-bean, would you deliberately take the fall?

With the United States, Great Britain, and Germany extending their military campaigns in Afghanistan, the western-backed government of Hamid Karzai is on its last legs.

Politically, the landlocked Islamic country is divided between two equally fragmented sides; a Taliban Movement that continues to sweep into Afghan provinces and exert its authority, and a corrupt coalition of warlords and Karzai loyalists struggling to act as a legitimate government. In fact, Afghan politics is so divided along tribal and sectarian lines that the parliament has twice rejected Karzai’s list of ministerial candidates. And unfortunately, more tit-for-tat in Kabul leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Afghan citizens; many of whom already complain of dismal representation, inadequate personal freedoms, and a lack of personal safety.

Most of this could be managed if Afghanistan faced a weak and simple adversary. But as is evident from the sophisticated violence and propaganda savvy of the enemy, Mullah Omar & Company is anything but one-dimensional. In fact, Karzai’s government has become so incompetent on the national front that every blunder creates new opportunities and symbolic victories for the Taliban’s Shadow Government.

Socially, domestic infrastructure couldn’t be worse. Healthy drinking water rarely circulates where it needs to be. Electricity is virtually absent outside the capital city, impeding the type of individual entrepreneurism that could potentially strengthen the Afghan state. Despite a crack-down on drug cultivation, Afghanistan is still the primary producer of opium for the world market. And all of this comes at a time when neighboring Pakistan is preoccupied with its own Islamic-extremist problem.

So with all of these issues obstructing the U.S. mission (which has shifted from democracy building to counterinsurgency over the past year) world leaders have decided to unite together in London for a single purpose: divide the Taliban and reintegrate the insurgency’s rank and file back into mainstream Afghan culture.

Economic assistance and military resolve were obviously high on the meeting’s agenda. The United States and Great Britain in particular have a vested interest in improving tactics and coordination on the battlefield. But while both of these issues were indeed important, the primary objective of the Afghanistan summit was to create a reintegration campaign that could entice low and mid-level Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.

There is no question that a reconciliation strategy is needed in order to improve the overall situation in Afghanistan. As global sentiment tells us, the U.S. is not the only one that wants such a strategy to take place.

The plan would promise Taliban fighters land and an economic lifesaver in exchange for an end to violence and realignment towards the central government. A denunciation of Al’Qaeda would also be demanded if Taliban members want full criminal immunity (let’s remember that destroying Al’Qaeda sanctuaries was the original goal for the United States in Afghanistan).

With this bargaining approach, the hope is that a large swathe of Taliban fighters- those who joined the insurgency out of intimidation or economic pressure- would put down their guns and participate in the political process. In theory, Mullah Omar and his core followers would then lose a vast portion of their membership, thereby weakening their position relative to Karzai and his coalition defenders.

A great strategy indeed. I am hopeful that the international community can come to some sort of agreement on this issue. The problem lies not in the plan per say, but rather the time it is being pursued.

Every right-minded scholar in South Asian affairs agrees that some sort of political deal in Afghanistan needs to take place. Likewise, common sense dictates that conventional military tactics will not end the war in Afghanistan by itself. This is one of the reasons why President Barack Obama signed General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for a new and revamped counterinsurgency approach. But what people can debate is whether reconciliation with the Taliban will work given the present circumstances.

In almost every province, the Taliban Movement has established quasi-control over the Afghan population. Sharia-sponsored courts have been rather effective at solving personal disputes between citizens; a judicial structure that the Afghan Government has yet to put into practice. Attacks on government compounds and improvised-explosive devices aimed towards coalition troops occur on a regular basis. And while the ASF vastly outnumbers the 25,000 or so Taliban insurgents, their quality is anything but satisfactory in terms of western standards.

What is more, Karzai’s supporters are highly polarizing individuals in the eyes of many Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. If parliament’s rejection of ministerial candidates is any indication, Karzai himself is a divisive figure.

In short, the U.S. and its allies are on their heels in virtually every single issue, while Taliban authorities continue to boost their credentials by taking advantage of Karzai’s mistakes. Say what you want about the movement, but the Taliban is a talented organization. They have managed to attain a certain level of security that all Afghans have been praying for.

When your enemy is in a position of strength, is there any incentive to give up the fight and surrender to the weaker side? As long as the insurgents are able to coordinate with relative ease against soft government targets and U.S./NATO troops, foot soldiers sympathetic with the Taliban will view any reconciliation deal as an insult to their intelligence.

Think about it; if you were a 250 pound body builder in the ring against a 150 pound string-bean, would you deliberately take the fall?

With the United States, Great Britain, and Germany extending their military campaigns in Afghanistan, the western-backed government of Hamid Karzai is on its last legs.

Politically, the landlocked Islamic country is divided between two equally fragmented sides; a Taliban Movement that continues to sweep into Afghan provinces and exert its authority, and a corrupt coalition of warlords and Karzai loyalists struggling to act as a legitimate government. In fact, Afghan politics is so divided along tribal and sectarian lines that the parliament has twice rejected Karzai’s list of ministerial candidates. And unfortunately, more tit-for-tat in Kabul leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Afghan citizens; many of whom already complain of dismal representation, inadequate personal freedoms, and a lack of personal safety.

Most of this could be managed if Afghanistan faced a weak and simple adversary. But as is evident from the sophisticated violence and propaganda savvy of the enemy, Mullah Omar & Company is anything but one-dimensional. In fact, Karzai’s government has become so incompetent on the national front that every blunder creates new opportunities and symbolic victories for the Taliban’s Shadow Government.

Socially, domestic infrastructure couldn’t be worse. Healthy drinking water rarely circulates where it needs to be. Electricity is virtually absent outside the capital city, impeding the type of individual entrepreneurism that could potentially strengthen the Afghan state. Despite a crack-down on drug cultivation, Afghanistan is still the primary producer of opium for the world market. And all of this comes at a time when neighboring Pakistan is preoccupied with its own Islamic-extremist problem.

So with all of these issues obstructing the U.S. mission (which has shifted from democracy building to counterinsurgency over the past year) world leaders have decided to unite together in London for a single purpose: divide the Taliban and reintegrate the insurgency’s rank and file back into mainstream Afghan culture.

Economic assistance and military resolve were obviously high on the meeting’s agenda. The United States and Great Britain in particular have a vested interest in improving tactics and coordination on the battlefield. But while both of these issues were indeed important, the primary objective of the Afghanistan summit was to create a reintegration campaign that could entice low and mid-level Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.

There is no question that a reconciliation strategy is needed in order to improve the overall situation in Afghanistan. As global sentiment tells us, the U.S. is not the only one that wants such a strategy to take place.

The plan would promise Taliban fighters land and an economic lifesaver in exchange for an end to violence and realignment towards the central government. A denunciation of Al’Qaeda would also be demanded if Taliban members want full criminal immunity (let’s remember that destroying Al’Qaeda sanctuaries was the original goal for the United States in Afghanistan).

With this bargaining approach, the hope is that a large swathe of Taliban fighters- those who joined the insurgency out of intimidation or economic pressure- would put down their guns and participate in the political process. In theory, Mullah Omar and his core followers would then lose a vast portion of their membership, thereby weakening their position relative to Karzai and his coalition defenders.

A great strategy indeed. I am hopeful that the international community can come to some sort of agreement on this issue. The problem lies not in the plan per say, but rather the time it is being pursued.

Every right-minded scholar in South Asian affairs agrees that some sort of political deal in Afghanistan needs to take place. Likewise, common sense dictates that conventional military tactics will not end the war in Afghanistan by itself. This is one of the reasons why President Barack Obama signed General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for a new and revamped counterinsurgency approach. But what people can debate is whether reconciliation with the Taliban will work given the present circumstances.

In almost every province, the Taliban Movement has established quasi-control over the Afghan population. Sharia-sponsored courts have been rather effective at solving personal disputes between citizens; a judicial structure that the Afghan Government has yet to put into practice. Attacks on government compounds and improvised-explosive devices aimed towards coalition troops occur on a regular basis. And while the ASF vastly outnumbers the 25,000 or so Taliban insurgents, their quality is anything but satisfactory in terms of western standards.

What is more, Karzai’s supporters are highly polarizing individuals in the eyes of many Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. If parliament’s rejection of ministerial candidates is any indication, Karzai himself is a divisive figure.

In short, the U.S. and its allies are on their heels in virtually every single issue, while Taliban authorities continue to boost their credentials by taking advantage of Karzai’s mistakes. Say what you want about the movement, but the Taliban is a talented organization. They have managed to attain a certain level of security that all Afghans have been praying for.

When your enemy is in a position of strength, is there any incentive to give up the fight and surrender to the weaker side? As long as the insurgents are able to coordinate with relative ease against soft government targets and U.S./NATO troops, foot soldiers sympathetic with the Taliban will view any reconciliation deal as an insult to their intelligence.

Think about it; if you were a 250 pound body builder in the ring against a 150 pound string-bean, would you deliberately take the fall?

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist