25 October, 2006

US nervous about Musa Qala truce.

The American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, has been getting nervous about the recent deal between the Taliban and the British army which saw both sides retreat from Musa Qala in Helmand. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Mr Neumann said that US and Nato analysis earlier in the summer indicated that in areas of the south such as Helmand, local tribes were siding with the Taliban because of grievances over local bad governance. "If you just say anyone who is sympathetic to the fight on the other side is forever outside the pale of negotiation you rather shoot yourself in foot," he said. "But at same time if you have an area that is under the Afghan government flag but is not under the actual authority of the Afghan government then you are losing in a very big way.

It (the truce) certainly shouldn't be replicated until those questions have been answered.

There is also a high degree of nervousness in the Afghan government about the Musa Qala deal, with ministers comparing it warily to truces with the Soviet army in the 1980s which mujahideen commanders used to build up their forces and gain a tactical advantage.
The Ambassador seems to think that the ceasefire negotiations should have involved the Afghanistan government in Kabul. However, if NATO is going to attempt to impose western concepts of centralised governance throughout Afghanistan, then the ISAF is doomed to failure. The power of local tribal chiefs and elders is likely to carry more weight within the villages than any remote national authority. The elders in Musa Qala wanted both the British army and the Taliban out of their village, so Brigadier Butler, the British commander, negotiated with them not the central government. In fact, the elders will probably accept the Afghanistan flag flying in their village but resent Kabul's interference in their affairs just as much as that of the Taliban or NATO.

The possibility of the Taliban using the truce to regroup is a legitimate concern, one of which Brigadier Butler was probably well aware. My analysis is that Butler probably felt it was a lesser evil than continuing the fighting and driving the locals to ally with the Taliban, thereby presenting the terrorists with a significant propaganda victory, with unpredictable political implications across the entire theatre.

No comments: