The video of four Marines urinating on Taleban corpses has rightly been condemned by relevant US authorities. Indecent and inappropriate acts like this inevitably and rightly shock public sensitivities. Perhaps the most surprising element in this story, however, has been the reaction by the Taleban suggesting that such grotesque action by the infidel is unlikely to affect the political process under way.
The Taleban’s measured reaction follows on from reports earlier this week in the Washinghton Post pointing to the possibility that the Taleban are soon to open an office in Qatar and that five Taliban prisoners are to be transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Doha where they will be kept under house arrest. Any negotiations that might subsequently take place in Qatar are likely to be aimed at drawing the Taliban formally into the political process in Afghanistan.
The 11 January opinion piece from David Ignatius in the Washington Post usefully traces these confidence building steps and the international efforts to get the Tabeban to the negotiating table. Ignatius refers back to a Feb 2011 speech by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which “she dropped previous US preconditions for Taleban participation in talks, such as renouncing al-Qaeda and backing the Afghan constitution. These were termed ‘necessary outcomes’ of negotiations, rather than ‘prior requirements’”.
Some will see these developments as a sign of weakness on the part of the US and its allies and a reflection that despite a surge of foreign troops in Afghanistan in the past 2 years and an overwhelming superiority in both numbers and firepower, the military effort has been unable to defeat the insurgency. Others will express skepticism as to whether it is possible to negotiate with a force that is unwilling to give up its jihad and one that remains committed to overthrowing the Karzai regime.
Understandable though these concerns are it is right to be reminded that all wars end eventually– starting with a process looking something like this one.