Last night, I got into a brief conversation about the Taliban. It reminded me of a statement quoted at a Strategic Studies Group meeting I attended in Oxford:
People are being very careful not to be against the Taliban and ‘keep the balance’ so that they will not be punished for helping foreigners when the Taliban return.
-Police commander, Kandahar
This idea raises an important question about longevity. If the Taliban can outlast any deployment NATO will be able to maintain, it becomes essential to produce a government that will be able to hold its own against them in the long term. Otherwise, we are just delaying the transition back to Taliban rule. While I am definitely not an expert on the military or political situation in Afghanistan, it does not seem like the present Karzai government has that kind of capability, in the absence of direct military support from NATO.
The question thus becomes what, if anything, NATO can do to produce a (preferably democratic) Afghan government capable of enduring after their withdrawal. If that does not prove possible, the question becomes what we are hoping to achieve in Afghanistan, and whether any lasting good will result for the population as the result of the initial displacement of the Tabliban and the Al Qaeda elements they were supporting.