Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If You Can't Beat Them, Pay Them?

A new defense appropriations bill includes a most curious clause that would provide payments to Taliban thugs who renounce their fight against the Afghan government. It's basically a bribe.
The defense bill President Barack Obama will sign into law on Wednesday contains a new provision that would pay Taliban fighters who renounce the insurgency, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said on Tuesday.

The provision establishes a program in Afghanistan similar to one used in Iraq where former fighters were re-integrated into Iraqi society, Levin told Reuters.

Obama plans to sign the bill authorizing Pentagon operations for fiscal 2010 on Wednesday, the White House said.

Reaching out to moderate Taliban members is part of the Obama administration's plan to turn around the eight-year war in Afghanistan. Levin also has advocated trying to convince Taliban fighters to change sides by luring them with jobs and amnesty for past attacks.

Under the legislation, Afghan fighters who renounce the insurgency would be paid for "mainly protection of their towns and villages," Levin said.
I think it shows a serious misunderstanding about the Taliban's character and motivations. Bribery will not buy off the Taliban; it will merely fund the Taliban's ongoing efforts against the Afghan, Pakistani, and US efforts to quell the Taliban threat in the region. The Taliban will not be satisfied until they regain control over Afghanistan, and their reach extends deep into Pakistan as well.

Sen. Carl Levin thinks this is similar to efforts in Iraq to pay off the insurgents who were attacking US and Iraqi forces. The key difference is that the al Qaeda and insurgency was paying those individuals to operate on their behalf; a lack of economic opportunity was a key reason that the insurgency took hold, and once the Iraqi economy began showing improvement, the insurgency leaders lost a key selling point and efforts to reintegrate the former insurgency members gained ground.

The situation on the ground in Afghanistan is far different. The Taliban have an independent source of revenue, primarily from the sale of heroin and opium. Tribal and familial loyalties are working against similar efforts, and the Taliban will more than likely rebuff efforts to buy the silence of their weapons.

The Taliban already dominate parts of Afghanistan and buying protection for their towns and villages isn't changing the fact on the ground; they already control that territory so paying them for that task is redundant. In fact, it opens up the possibility that the money the US is providing will find its way to al Qaeda and the Taliban fighting in Pakistan. Moreover, it will be seen as a sign of weakness by the Taliban, and encourage more fighting.

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