OTTAWA—Way back in 2006, when Canadian soldiers suddenly found themselves engaged in combat in Afghanistan with a resurgent Taliban, former NDP leader Jack Layton questioned why we wouldn’t try to negotiate with this resistance force.
At the time, the newly elected Harper Conservatives were at their bellicose best, insisting that Canada would not “cut and run” from a fight. The media quickly began beating the war drums, and Layton was pilloried soundly and given the moniker “Taliban Jack.”
Thirteen years have passed since then, Layton is deceased, Canada did finally cut and run in 2014, and a revitalized Taliban now controls or threatens much of Afghanistan’s territory.
Most importantly, the United States is now doing what Layton had suggested: it is attempting to negotiate with the Taliban.
After talks in Qatar and Russia between senior Taliban leaders and the newly appointed U.S. special peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, it was announced that the two sides have cobbled together the framework of an agreement. The essential platform in this pathway to peace is that the U.S. will agree to a full withdrawal of troops, as per President Donald Trump’s stated objective, in exchange for a promise from the Taliban to never again harbour a terrorist entity such as al-Qaeda.
Given that the Osama bin Laden-directed 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 were likely conducted without the knowledge of, and certainly without the blessing of, his Taliban Afghan hosts, this seems an easy request for the Taliban to fulfil.
It is interesting to note that no representatives of the current Afghan regime were present at the talks in either Qatar or Russia. This would appear to indicate that the U.S. is now prepared to walk away from what was arguably the most corrupt political cabal on the planet. Without U.S. military force to prop them up, President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive (read co-president), Abdullah Abdullah, and First Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum would be overrun by the Taliban in a matter of weeks.
That is unless, in true Afghan tribal form, deals are cut and loyalties revisited. Dostum in particular has a nasty track record for personal survival at the expense of his allies.
It is also worth noting that the Khalilzad, an Afghan-American, has close ties to the conflict in his home country, dating back to the Soviet invasion of 1979. Khalilzad worked for Ronald Reagan’s administration in the U.S. in providing arms to the brave mujahedeen of Afghanistan.
Around the time of the U.S.-supported mujahedeen’s defeat of the Soviets in 1989, Khalilzad found employment at the RAND Corporation where he wrote at length about the importance of U.S. global leadership.
He also provided a risk analysis report for Unocal (now Chevron) for a proposed gas pipeline in Afghanistan. This pipeline was to connect the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Pakistan, and would run right through Kandahar.
A key member of the George W. Bush administration, Khalilzad helped to establish the post-Taliban presidency of Hamid Karzai in 2002. Khalilzad was then appointed as an ambassador at large for Iraqi diaspora members in advance of the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Once U.S. troops were on the ground, Khalilzad set up shop at the embassy in Baghdad, and we all know how swimmingly that little operation worked out for the Americans.
Now, we have Khalilzad in Moscow of all places discussing a future agreement with the Taliban in the presence of the former U.S.-appointed Afghan president Karzai. One has to wonder if that old pipeline proposal is about to be dusted off in exchange for more Taliban concessions at the peace talks.
Now that this is coming full circle, it would seem that Taliban Jack Layton was not far off the mark. It will also become increasingly difficult for those voices in the news media who sold the Afghan mission as a crusade to save the women of Afghanistan from the Taliban, to justify their enthusiasm for bloodshed.
It will be even harder for our military to reason away the 158 dead, 2,000-plus physically wounded, and untold number suffering the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder, sustained in a needless war.
Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.
The Hill Times
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