Friday 14 November 2008

'The stink of a looming betrayal'

At the Guardian/NYRB event that we attended in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, there seemed to be general approval among the panel for the idea of negotiating with the Taliban, and a welcome for news that the Bush government appeared to be  considering this path. At the time, this made me feel distinctly uncomfortable, though I couldn't quite say why. 

Now Terry Glavin's compelling report from Afghanistan has spelt out in stark terms why talking to the fundamentalist sect that oppressed the Afghani people and provided a safe haven to the perpetrators of 9/11 would be a mistake:

Among Kabul's human rights activists, student leaders and women's rights groups, the big fear isn't the spectre of Taliban militias rolling back into Kabul. The much greater threat comes from places like Washington, Tehran and Islamabad. It's the clamour for a backroom deal with the Taliban (with President Hamid Karzai's signature on it for the sake of appearances). The stink of a looming betrayal is everywhere, and Kabulis, betrayed so many times before, can smell it a mile away.

Glavin goes on to describe the emerging civil society that would be put at risk by any accommodation with the Taliban. He acknowledges that the security situation in Kabul is still far from ideal:

But there is also the new, real-world Kabul, out in the streets, where the bazaars are bursting with life and commerce, and raucous laughter erupts from back alleys where men sit around TV sets watching Afghan talk shows. This is the Kabul the Taliban hates so bitterly. Every morning, the streets are filled with schoolchildren. Even in the dingiest parts of this bomb-blasted metropolis, among the rickety vendors' stalls that sell cow heads and sheep guts, you can't turn a corner without coming upon another newly opened computer school, or a long line of unveiled women waiting for their literacy classes to open for the day.

Writing in the Guardian two days after the US election, Jonathan Steele urged Barack Obama to go back on his campaign promise to reinforce the fight against the Taliban: 'Nato's tentative new policy of talking to the Taliban should be expanded, so that foreign troops can be withdrawn from the south', he wrote. 'The trend should be to bring troops out, not send more in'. But then Steele also believes Obama should repudiate the war against terrorism, which he maintains is merely a 'technique...not an ideology'.

Let's hope that the President Elect is not swayed by these siren voices, and maintains his resolve to 'finish our mission in Afghanistan', not run away from it - for the sake of those unveiled women students in Kabul.


Tom said...

How on earth do you defend the contention that 'terrorism is an ideology'?

Martin said...

Of course I don't think that terrorism is an ideology. In fact, I think the term 'war on terror' was a misnomer and a mistake - we weren't attacked on 9/11 and 7/7 by a strategy but by an ideology - reactionary Islamism. So you could argue that Steele and Bush both make the same mistake - from opposite political perspectives. Both focus on the method, not the ideology.

People like Steele, and all the other 'root causers' (see the rest of Steele's Guardian article last week) vehemently deny the role of ideology in Islamist terrorism and instead seek to explain it simply as a response to poverty, national humiliation, etc. Yes, those factors obviously play a part - as they did in the rise of Nazism, and of more recent fascist movements such as the BNP - but they don't explain the particular nature of the reaction. The only point where I might agree with someone like Steele is that this is a battle for hearts and minds, as well as for power. But, as WW2 showed us, when a reactionary ideology becomes a physical threat, it needs to be resisted with force as well as persuasion.