Better late than never. If the Washington Post provides any an indication of the mood in D.C, there might be reason to rejoice. Or bang your head against the wall. The good news is that the Post seems to have finally come to terms with the shocking fact that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are two different entities. In an article published last week, the Post reports that the power dynamic in Afghanistan is shifting, quoting estimates that place the number of al-Qaeda members somewhere around… a hundred. It is, of course, difficult to assess the exact number of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but knowing that their number is closer to 10,000 than 100, it’s hard to imagine how al-Qaeda could ever have had the upper hand in a supposed “balance of power.” Kudos to the Post for stating the obvious: al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is close to nil, and has been so for awhile. For anyone who has been following the situation in Afghanistan, the breaking-news that “in Afghanistan, Taliban surpasses al-Qaeda” feels a bit like a damp squib.
But even if al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan is now reduced to about a hundred members, there are still ideological ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who share a “symbiotic relationship.” At least that’s why the Post and the US administration say, with the underlying assumption that if US troops leave Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would be back in no time to stage attacks against the US et al. The “safe haven” myth just won’t die. It should be filed with another myth that the Post casually perpetuates: “Al-Qaeda is the teacher of the Taliban.” Hum, who did provide arms to the Afghans during the Soviet occupation?
Still, it is true that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have something in common: they want the US out of Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Post acknowledges that it’s because they are united by a common enemy that the Taliban and al-Qaeda cooperate, but fails to see the connection with the US occupation.
The fact is that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have different purposes. The Taliban want to rule Afghanistan - which al-Qaeda has absolutely no interest in – and they know that “the more they connect themselves to al-Qaeda, the less the population’s going to welcome them back.” But as long as they will face 100,000 NATO troops, they will share a common aim. So, if we follow the Post’s argument, the US has to stay in Afghanistan to keep al-Qaeda from coming back, but the troops’ presence actually makes it more likely that the Taliban will welcome al-Qaeda fighters. Sounds like a catch-22.
Which brings us to the logical conclusion: sending 40,000 more troops is not going to solve the problem. The solution in Afghanistan is political, not military. It’s been said so many times by so many informed observers that it’s starting to sound like a broken record. But wouldn’t it be nice if the Post decided once again to state the obvious?