A deal with a heinous Afghan warlord? Sign me up.

A deal with a heinous Afghan warlord? Sign me up.

I haven’t seen anyone blog this interesting tidbit from Robert Kaplan’s new piece in the Atlantic, in which the top U.S. intelligence official in Afghanistan says two of the most notorious Taliban affiliates are "absolutely salvageable":

A deal with the insurgents constitutes another part of a withdrawal strategy. While becoming more organizationally formidable since 9/11, the Taliban have also modified their behavior. Mullah Omar has sent out a directive banning beheadings and unauthorized kidnappings as well as other forms of violent and criminal activity, according to both Al-Jazeera and ISAF officials. “In a way, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Taliban,” said both Commander Eggers and General Flynn. Moreover, in working with the tribes in the spirit of Churchill’s Malakand Field Force, Flynn, the intelligence chief, went so far as to suggest that the insurgent leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are both “absolutely salvageable.” “The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.” Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: “Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”

There’s been a lot of chatter recently over bringing Hekmatyar and/or Haqqani over on the the government side, but this is the first time I’ve seen a senior U.S. military official expressing this level of enthusiasm for the idea, even if it’s from a free spirit like Flynn. The Washington Post editorial board pre-emptively thundered last month that the inclusion of either guy "would be a disaster for the cause of human rights or a responsible Afghan government," so presumably Flynn isn’t the only guy in the U.S. military or civilian hierarchy thinking seriously about cutting a deal with one or both militant networks. (TNR‘s Michael Crowley quotes Bruce Riedel, who conducted the Obama administration’s AfPak strategy review and presumably still talks to the powers that be, expressing cautious enthusiasm for working with Hekmatyar.)

There’s no question these are nasty men, but they don’t strike me as particularly worse on human rights issues than say, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, or any number of petty warlords the United States is working with in Afghanistan. The real question is what their demands are, and whether they’re willing to do things like rat out al Qaeda members hanging out in their areas of control. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his deputies are smart, practical men who have been given an impossible timetable and are going to do whatever works in order to meet President Obama’s withdrawal timeframe. If that means holding their noses and dealing with a sociopath like Hekmatyar, I’m sure they’ll do it when the price is right.