The West should have negotiated with the Taliban more than a decade ago, soon after they were toppled, Britain’s senior general in Afghanistan said yesterday after recent efforts to start peace talks collapsed in ignominy.
General Nick Carter told the London-based Guardian that an opportunity to bring peace to Afghanistan was missed when the Taliban were on the defensive in 2002 after they were ousted following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
“The Taliban were on the run,” he said.
“At that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution... would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future,” he added.
Carter, deputy of commander of the NATO-led coalition, acknowledged it was “easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight,” but that Afghanistan’s problems were political issues that “are only ever solved by people talking to each other.”
The search for a peace settlement with the Taliban is now a priority for the Afghan government and international powers, while the insurgency still rages across many parts of the country and US-led troops prepare to exit next year.
A Taliban office in Qatar that opened on June 18 was meant to foster talks, but instead triggered a diplomatic bust-up when the insurgents used the title of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” from their reign between 1996 and 2001.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, furious that the office was being styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile, broke off separate security talks with the US and threatened to boycott any peace process altogether.
US President Barack Obama recently said he anticipated “a lot of bumps in the road” during the peace process, but that it was the only way to end the violence in Afghanistan.
More than 3,300 coalition personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, peaking at 711 deaths in 2010, according to the independent icasualties.org Web site.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said at G8 summit 10 days ago that the military effort in Afghanistan, where Britain still has about 7,900 troops, had to be matched by a “political process.”
“That is exactly what I hope can happen with elements of the Taliban,” he said.