DO AFGHANS WANT?
Staged US/UK Withdrawal & A Negotiated Solution
JNV Anti-War Briefing 120
7 October 2009
is available as a pdf here.
Posted 6 October 2009.
The Guiding Principle
In his major
speech on Afghanistan on 4 Sept., British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown emphasized Britain's self interest in the Afghan war: 'We
are in Afghanistan as a result of a hard-headed assessment of
the terrorist threat facing Britain.' The Prime Minister does
not often speak of the wishes of the Afghan people. But these
wishes, so far as they can be known, ought to be at the centre
of British policy.
What we know is that the majority of people
in Afghanistan (77%) want an end to the airstrikes that have killed
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Afghan civilians. We also know
that the majority of Afghans (64%) want a negotiated end to the
conflict, and are willing to accept the creation of a coalition
government including the Taliban leadership.
We also know that a majority of Afghans oppose
the idea of escalating the war and increasing the number of foreign
troops in the country. 73% of Afghans think that US-led forces
in the country should either be decreased in number (44%) or 'kept
at the current level' (29%). Only 18% of Afghans favour an increase.
Fear of the Taliban
These are the results of a nationwide poll
commissioned by the BBC, ABC News (USA) and ARD (Germany), in
which 1,534 Afghans were interviewed in all of the country's 34
provinces between 30 December 2008 and 12 January 2009.
The poll found enormous hostility to the
Taliban. 82% of people said they would prefer the present government;
only 4% favoured a Taliban government. 90% of people said they
opposed Taliban fighters. The Taliban were seen as the biggest
danger to the country by 58% of people; the United States was
in fourth place with 8% (just ahead of 'local commanders' - a
euphemism for US-backed warlords, we suspect).
'Who do you blame the most for the violence
that is occurring in the country?' The Taliban came top with 27%;
al-Qa'eda/foreign jihadis were next with 22%. In third place were
'US/American forces/Bush/US government/America/NATO/ISAF forces'
69% of people thought it was a good thing
that the US-led forces had come to Aghanistan to bring down the
Taliban. (Down from 88% in 2006.)
64% of Afghans thought (in January 2009)
that 'The Taliban are the same as before', and had not grown more
Despite all this, a solid 64% of Afghans
thought 'the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement
with Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political
offices if they agree to stop fighting'. However, Afghans favoured
preconditions to such talks: 71% said the government should 'negotiate
only if the Taliban stop fighting'.
64% of British people also think 'America
and Britain be willing to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan in
order to achieve a peace deal'. (Sunday
Times, 15 Mar.)
Talks are only meaningful if the other side
is willing to play their part. It seems, in the case of Afghanistan,
that there is serious interest in a national reconciliation process
on the part of the Taliban and the Karzai administration - but
that these negotiations are being blocked by the United States
and Britain, who are determined to achieve a military victory.
The Taliban position
The Taliban's current demands were set out
in a New York Times article
on 20 May: 'The first demand was an immediate pullback of
American and other foreign forces to their bases, followed by
a cease-fire and a total withdrawal from the country over the
next 18 months. Then the current government would be replaced
by a transitional government made up of a range of Afghan leaders,
including those of the Taliban and other insurgents. Americans
and other foreign soldiers would be replaced with a peacekeeping
force drawn from predominantly Muslim nations, with a guarantee
from the insurgent groups that they would not attack such a force.
Nationwide elections would follow after the Western forces left.'
A negotiator said the Taliban leaders also
added two more conditions: an end to the drone attacks in Pakistan's
tribal areas, and the release of some Taliban prisoners.
On 2 Apr., the Independent reported
that preliminary talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and
the Taliban seemed to have 'yielded a significant shift away from
the Taliban's past obsession with repressive rules and punishments
governing personal behaviour.'
It was said that the Taliban were now prepared
to commit themselves to 'refraining from banning girls' education,
beating up taxi drivers for listening to Bollywood music, or measuring
the length of mens' beards.'
Burqas would be 'strongly recommended' for
women in public, but not be compulsory.
The Taliban's wider political demands appear
to have also softened considerably since 2007, when they demanded
'control of 10 southern provinces, a timetable for withdrawal
of foreign troops, and the release of all Taliban prisoners within
six months'. (Guardian, 15
The Taliban 18-month withdrawal schedule
fits in with Afghan opinion. In the BBC poll, 21% of Afghans said
US-led forces should leave immediately; 16% said between 6 months
and a year from now; and 14% within two years. So 51% of Afghans
want withdrawal within two years.
In May 2007, the upper house of the Afghan
parliament voted for a military ceasefire and negotiations with
the Taliban, and for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign
troops. (AP, 10 May 2007)
A staged withdrawal also fits in with British
opinion. In a Guardian/BBC
Newsnight poll, published on 13 July, 42% of voters wanted
British troops withdrawn immediately; and a further 14% wanted
withdrawal "by the end of the year" (ie within five
months). (36% of people said they should "stay until they
are no longer needed".)
poll published on 22 July showed that two-thirds of those
polled believed that British troops should be withdrawn either
now (34%) or (33%) 'within the next year or so' (ie within 12
So that's 56% wanting withdrawal within months,
and 67% wanting withdrawal within a year.
A staged withdrawal also fits in with US
public opinion. In a New York
Times/CBS News poll, 55% of voters said US troops should be
withdrawn within two years (31% said within one year). (24 Sept.)
poll showed that 63% of Afghans supported the presence of
US troops in Afghanistan (but 77% wanted an end to airstrikes).
Only 8% supported the presence of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
It seems that Afghans want an international
presence in the country to prevent rule by the Taliban, who they
fear and detest. That international presence ought to be supplied
by independent forces uninvolved in the US-led invasion and occupation,
and controlled by the UN General Assembly (rather than the US-dominated
It is impossible to take the Taliban's position
at face value - particularly on social controls - but there seems
to be no alternative to a genuine negotiated solution to the Afghan
conflict, in line with Afghan public opinion, Afghan parliamentary
opinion, and British public opinion.
Britain and the US should halt their 'surge'
into Afghanistan, ceasefire, withdraw to their bases, draw down
troops and allow a national reconciliation process to take place.
The future of the Afghan people must be determined according to
the wishes of the Afghan people.
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