Bardia Mehrabian, Broadside Contributor

“It’s time to get real about Afghanistan,” writes Fareed Zakaria, contributing writer and editor for Newsweek International. He, in a Sept. 21 Newsweek article, continues, “Withdrawal is not a serious option. The United States, NATO, the European Union, and other nations have invested massively in stabilizing the country over the past eight years, and they will not—and should not—abandon it because the Taliban is proving a tougher foe than anticipated.”

These words should resonate for any proponent of seeing the Taliban eradicated in Afghanistan, but from NGOs, think-tanks, to the military itself; everyone is stuck scratching their head regarding how to achieve this objective.

Zakaria’s prescription: pay the Taliban, whom are virtually all ethnically Pashtun, to stop killing and bombing. He elaborates: “Buying, renting, or bribing Pashtun tribes should become the centerpiece of America’s stabilization strategy, as it was Britain’s when it ruled Afghanistan.” Zakaria’s argument is mainly drawn from the strategies that were employed in Iraq by the U.S. military. During the most violent years of the second Iraq war, the U.S. bribed different militia groups not to kill U.S. troops and rival militias to quell the maelstrom of violence plaguing Iraq.

This was met with success, but only temporarily. Zakaria seems to miss the increasing sectarian violence playing out in Iraq during the last six months with militia groups, namely Sons of Iraq and “Sunni Awakening,” becoming dissatisfied with the treatment by the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government. It’s a fragile solution.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. As trivial or common sense as this statement may sound, one must rebuff any argument—especially in the context of winning “hearts and minds”— that attempts to justify solutions for a country simply on the basis that it worked in another country.

In said context, the analysis of culture, social structures, social hierarchy, social interaction, commerce and countless other issues must be analyzed before a proper strategy can be put in place.

In order to be pragmatic in the context of Afghanistan, where time spent on analyzing Afghanistan is time given to the Taliban to acquire more territory, I address Zakaria’s secondary argument: Create a potential coalition between President Karzai and leading opponent Abdullah Abdullah. While Zakaria makes light of the post-election fraud allegations in Afghanistan, I argue that it is imperative to create a coalition among the divided Afghan social and political elite in order to bring some kind of legitimacy back to the central government.

With the allegations of voter fraud dealing a serious blow to the legitimacy of Karzai’s government, the Afghan public views the government doing the bidding of foreign occupiers instead of listening to the sovereign demands of the Afghan people. An ideological win for the Taliban; no Pashtun will want to support a president with such a tainted record, regardless if Karzai is Pashtun or not.

For Afghanistan’s minority ethnic groups, like the Tajiks and Uzbeks, they are left to create militias and regress to their Warlord past as the only option for legitimate resistance against the Taliban incursion in the Northern provinces. This is mainly due to their disenchanted perspective that engaging in political avenues through a central government produces no results and is, instead, just a sham.

To force Karzai to cooperate with opposition leaders in order to solve their differences and make concessions will infuse the government to create indigenous strategies and tactics to tackle and win Afghanistan’s future.

Instead of foreign think tanks condescendingly making suggestions (or decisions) on how Afghans should run their country, Afghanistan’s political elite will have to walk the balance between traditional and cultural values and merge them with the modern state. Karzai will also need to be pressured in bringing other Pashtun leaders—even Taliban or ex-Taliban, if willing—into the political fold.

By doing so, more and more Pashtuns will be involved in the political discourse, which will undercut the power base of the fighting Taliban. As ugly as it may sound to “deal with terrorists,” the United States and Afghanistan must be pragmatic and include the Taliban into institutions where compromise, deal-making, and concessions are made, regardless of ideology.

In the end, all feel empowered, regardless of ethnic, religious, or political affiliation, without having to purchase anybody and saving our deficit in the process.