I wouldn't mind phoning President Barack Obama to tell him one simple, obvious thing: Forget Afghanistan! You will never win that war, and it’s not because your army isn’t a good one. It’s not because the enemy is more powerful, and it’s not because you lack allies. It’s simply because the formation of the land is such that no army is capable of defeating the rebels on their own terrain.
When the Soviets sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers over there, they soon realized this fact and withdrew, leaving the problem to the West. In Afghanistan’s magnificent, yet complex and remote countryside, barbarity has found its refuge, its source and its grotto. It defies the world with an unparalleled brutality. We call these barbarous entities the Taliban, opium traffickers and faithless, lawless adventurers. These people, whose temperaments are impenetrable and incomprehensible to Americans, plow over the country and devastate it.
On Feb. 26, 2001, the Taliban blew up the Buddhas of Bamya, a relic of a great civilization dating from the fourth to fifth century A.D., statues of earth and stone erected in the desert for spirituality. On that very day, the civilized word was conquered.
Muslims from the Arab world, from Africa and from the Maghreb refused to protest or denounce this act of barbarity, which would be followed by other attacks — this time, on men. Since the Taliban has been removed from power, three-fourths of the civilians killed have been Afghans.
The unfortunate President Hamid Karzaï, elected under conditions that we are all well aware of, is trying to find a non-military solution to the problem destroying his country. On Jan. 28, at the London conference on Afghanistan, he proposed a new “reconciliation” strategy with “moderate” Taliban, in hope that they would renounce violence. He specifies:
“We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al-Qaida or other terrorist networks, who accept the Afghan constitution. To do this we will establish a National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration, followed by a peace Jirga in Afghanistan.”
What he forgets to say is that moderation does not exist in the Taliban's vocabulary.
If our phone call to Obama is not sufficient or feasible, the president could at least listen to his general, [Stanley] McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who was quoted in the Financial Times:
“As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting, [and] you just really don’t make progress, politically, during fighting.”
So how can we progress politically? How can we convince the insurgents to sit down and negotiate? One thing is certain: Foreigners, whether they are American or European, will not know how to talk to them.
Only sincere and serious Afghans will be able to convince them to accept a negotiated peace. But these men of good will also need to work with diplomats from Pakistan, a country that plays an important role in this war. It provides aid and refuge to rebels on ethnic grounds and for obscure political or ideological reasons, which are most likely related to opium trafficking and an obsession with neighboring India.
Every possible solution should pass through Pakistan, which plays a murky and dangerous role. President Obama and the other countries on the ground could withdraw their troops. They could negotiate with Pakistan, and, if necessary, pay rebel leaders who are worn out by this war. They could choose a new strategy to stop the war in Afghanistan from dragging on and to prevent it from becoming a blemish on Obama’s presidency. Like the American ambassador to Kabul said (New York Times, Jan. 26, 2010): “Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable.”
The problem can be summarized as a conflict between two worldviews. The Iraq experience has shown quite clearly that you can’t export democracy in the same way you would export a soft drink. Only Afghans can determine their fate and decide to establish a democratic system or to create a system corresponding to their own history. The values of democracy are universal, but democracy is also a culture, a form of instruction and a day-to-day job. To find a solution to this war, violence must be renounced. Only political negotiation and cunning reason are capable of saving this country and the men who have come from America and Europe to pacify it.
If Obama succeeds — and he must succeed — he will have all the time and energy he needs to resolve the far more serious and complex conflict between Israel and Palestine. Now more than ever, the Middle East needs peace. It needs the good will of America to alleviate ordeals like the one in Gaza, where the Egyptian government, under pressure from Israel, has become another adversary to inhabitants by further suppressing them with plans to build a wall in the tunnels that residents were forced to dig in the first place to survive.
Once again, this conflict will not be resolved by force, but by diplomacy, reason and the intelligence of the heart.