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 on Saturday 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 9/11 attacks.
“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.”
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 as the insurgency still rages across many parts of the country and U.S.-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 1996-2001 reign.
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 Americans and threatened to boycott any peace process altogether.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently said he anticipated “a lot of bumps in the road” during the peace process but that it ws 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 website.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said at G8 summit ten days ago that the military effort in Afghanistan, where Britain still has around 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.
West should have negotiated with the Taliban, says British general