Can Britain reach the $10-a-day Taliban?

Can Britain reach the $10-a-day Taliban?

At NATO headquarters on Monday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband gave a speech on British strategy in Afghanistan. The minister layed out a strategy of “reintegration and and reconciliation” with elements of the Taliban. At a press briefing in Washington today, a British official followed up on Miliband’s remarks, first describing what the new strategy doesn’t entail

Nobody, but nobody is suggesting right now that we’re talking to Mullah Omar and giving him parts of Afghanistan to run. That is absolutely not what reconciliation and reintigration means. What it means is the recognition that at some point, for this insurgency to die down and for Afghanistan to become a more peaceful, stronger place, there will need to be some sort of ongoing political understanding.

And who exactly is being “reintegrated?”

You’re talking about the $10-a-day Taliban. At the moment the best deal he has is to accept that $10 and and go and shoot foreign or Afghan government troops. What we’re trying to do by the reintegration philsophy is to try to introduce a better deal for him.

The official described a “comprehensive strategy” (what the U.S. calls a “whole-government” strategy aimed at giving Afghanistan the security it needs to keep militants under control and prevent the likes of al Qaeda from setting up shop). With presidential elections on the horizon, I asked the official if such an Afghan state need necessarily be democratic:

It’s really not in our interest to set high standards of Western democracy in Afghanistan. We’re not playing that game. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to hold dear the values that that western countries like yours and ours and the European countries have. Freedom of speech, women’s rights: they’re a very imporant part of the sort of activities we’re conducting…. It doesn’t mean that we’re pounding the pavement, saying “you must have a vote on this” or demanding decisions be democratic. The phrase we’ve used is  “going with the grain” of Afghan society.

While an Afghan strategy that encompasses negotiation with elements of the Taliban and is less concerned with democracy promotion may sound less ambitious, it will still likely entail a multi-year commitment. With rising U.K. casualties and an unpopular government, that could be a tough sell to British voters.

As Small Wars Journal‘s Robbert Haddick recently wrote on, the insurgents are likely very aware of this fact.

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