May 17, 2011

"Talk to the Taliban" at AWRF 2011

Thank goodness for quote marks -- or maybe not! In my rush to publish this very newsworthy piece contributed by Jo Davidson, our savvy Serials Librarian, I nearly forgot them, meaning the post would have been titled Talk to the Taliban at AWRF 2011. It might have been contested but hey, it would have gotten a lot of attention!
But the "Talk to the Taliban" session at AWRF should interest all of us as well. James Fergusson has a number of thought-provoking things to say on the subject of the Taliban, whom he first encountered fifteen years ago as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan. He has written a book called Taliban: the true story of the world's most feared guerrilla fighters, and after hearing him speak, I have to say that I hope it will be widely read. It won't happen but it would be great if all those people (I am one of them) who read Khaled Hosseini's bestselling novels The Kite Runner and A thousand splendid suns which depicted all members of the Taliban as sexually depraved, drug-addicted,or both, and always monstrously cruel, would read this book.

Here's Jo's summary of the salient points of the session:
This packed session on Friday afternoon had James Fergusson, journalist, conflict specialist on Bosnia and, since 1996, Afghanistan, being interviewed by Sean Plunket. Fergusson believes that the West must start up a dialogue with the Taliban if we are to find a way to withdraw from Afghanistan. He asserts that there are no al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan and that the Taliban have no interest in exporting terror. Quite the opposite in fact: they have always been a force for security in the country and helped bring stability in the period of civil war that followed the withdrawal of the former USSR in 1994. He emphasized that the Talibs or religious scholars have deep roots in Afghanistan amongst the majority Pashtuns and are not the foreign soldiers the West often portrays them to be. Fergusson explained that the Taliban never approved of al-Qaeda methods but desperately needed Osama Bin Laden’s money. Later, despite the problems his presence created them, their culture of courtesy to all guests prevented them from betraying him to the West.

In my view the Taliban’s treatment of women was glossed over by Fergusson, although of course that issue is not why the West invaded and is not used as justification for keeping troops in the country.

A question from the floor led Fergusson to opine that the role of our SAS in Afghanistan is dubious, as captive Afghanis are handed over to the National Security Directorate which, Fergusson has been told, still operates with the KGB handbook for which torture is acceptable.

Fergusson hopes that if a climate of trust can develop, both the Taliban and their neighbours in the region should be involved in the talks that lead to Western withdrawal. However as both sides want to have the military advantage before negotiations begin, there is no quick solution in sight.

-- Jo Davidson


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