When I talk with people about Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan, their reaction is pretty consistent. Yup, it's a mess. Yup, maybe we shouldn't have gotten involved in the first place. But the Taliban were pretty nasty when they were in power [Agreed!] particularly in terms of how they treated women [Agreed again!].
Should we withdraw? Probably ... except ...
- Except we have a reponsibility to the people of Afghanistan.
- Except if we did, the Taliban would take power again.
- Except if we did, women's rights would disappear.
- Except our NATO "partners" would be upset.
- Except how can reconstruction take place unless order is established?
It is widely accepted that ultimately peace in Afghanistan depends on negotiation rather that violence. For example, the Manley report states:
Eventually, achieving a genuine and stable peace in Afghanistan will necessitate a more thoroughgoing political and social reconciliation among Afghans themselves—citizens who have been divided for generations on differences of tribal, regional and political identity. With time, better governance will involve a negotiated coming-to-terms between the present Afghan political leadership and some adherents of the former Taliban regime who renounce terror and repression and adopt the norms and practices of democracy.Negotiate with the Taliban? No, not the Taliban, some-adherents-of-the-former-Taliban-regime-who-renounce-terror and-repression-and-adopt-the-norms-and-practices-of-democracy. But, to save space let's just call them ... the Taliban.
When Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, suggested something similar more than a year ago, he was demonized by the right wing and labeled "Taliban Jack".
But rhetorical nonsense aside, the point remains that in the end, negotiation is essential. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that the price of peace was negotiation with unsavoury characters. Refusal to negotiate isn't a badge of moral righteousness, it's a commitment to ceaseless violence.
The Manley report mentions negotiation twice. The first time is in the paragraph excerpted above, in a section on "Governance". The second time is in Appendix 10:
Across the various polls conducted in the last four years, views on the Taliban have remained uniformly negative. In the autumn of 2003, some 75% of Afghans viewed the Taliban unfavourably (62% very unfavourably), 89% felt that way in October 2005 (75% very unfavourably), and 73% in September 2007 (53% very negative). At the same time however, when asked whether President Karzai should enter into negotiations with the Taliban and allow them to participate in the political process, some 60% of Afghans currently believe a negotiated settlement should be pursued.Though it is not unlikely that some of the survey respondents may have given careful replies, fearing that the "wrong" answer might have undesirable consequences, it seems clear that by in large Afghans are unfavourably disposed to the Taliban. And yet a majority support negotiation. They can't be bothered with righteous moral purity; they just want to live in peace.