An intriguing argument for negotiations with the Taliban presented as the necessary precondition for a political settlement and withdrawal.
Journalist Fergusson (A Million Bullets—The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan, 2008, etc.), who has reported on Afghanistan for 14 years, draws on his wide-ranging experience and extensive personal network. The author is convinced that the Taliban is not just unknown, but misrepresented in Western thinking and coverage. He concedes that elements of the Taliban’s program and activities are abhorrent to Westerners, especially their treatment of women, but he insists that there is another side to the story. The misrepresentation leaves out what was going on in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power in 1996, and what they tried to put an end to, and ignores the fact that there are different views within the movement. Thus, when the Taliban said they were protecting women, it was partially true, at least relative to the murder, violence and rape that accompanied the rule of mujahideen commanders like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Taliban, writes the author, are primarily Pashto, a tribal people with traditions of great antiquity, among other tribes, ethnicities and religions. Those who follow such ways, and their leaders, must be treated with respect while they work out their differences. Stopping night-time assassinations of civilians and ending the continued employment of Soviet-era prison facilities and political police would contribute as well. The misrepresentation is part of the persistent refusal of the United States and its allies in the International Security Assistance Force to open negotiations with those who might move things forward. “The Taliban has made some terrible mistakes,” writes the author, “and I do not condone them. But I am also certain that we need a better understanding of how and why they made those mistakes before we condemn them.”
If wars are ended through negotiation between enemies, then the Taliban will need to be among those at the table who will help bring this one to an end.