KABUL, June 29: The West should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, the top British commander in Afghanistan has said, barely a week after the latest attempt to bring the militant group to the negotiating table stuttered to a halt.
General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, said Afghan forces would need western military and financial support for several years after western combat troops headed home. And he said the Kabul government might have to accept that for some years it would have only shaky control over some remoter parts of the country.
He said: “Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future.”
Acknowledging that it was “easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight”, Gen Carter added: “The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other.”
The US and Afghan governments are pushing hard for negotiations to end a conflict that has dragged on for more than 12 years. But critics have long argued that the West could have struck a deal with moderate Taliban leaders after ousting the group from power in 2001, perhaps saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
Gen Carter said he was confident that Nato’s handover of security to Afghan forces, finalised last week, would eventually bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
“What the opponents of the Afghan government now realise is they are likely to be up against capable Afghan security forces who are going to be here in perpetuity and therefore that old adage that ‘We have the clocks but the Taliban have the time’, has now been reversed,” he said.
“They are now up against security forces who have the time, and they are also Afghan forces... for those reasons I think that there is every chance people will realise that talking is the answer to this problem,” added Gen Carter.
By arrangement with The Guardian