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Afghanistan: Reading between the lines

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The movement to "get the troops out now!" has found unlikely converts in the form of the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition in Britain. The election campaign suggested nothing new could be expected from any of the parties on Afghanistan, despite the fact that over 70 per cent of Britons want the troops home.

So eyebrows were raised with the news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was Prime Minister David Cameron's first visitor at Chequers. They went higher still when Foreign Minister William Hague made his first foreign destination Kabul, where he called for the withdrawal of troops as soon as possible.

Accompanying Hague, Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox seconded the new approach, saying, "We have to reset expectations and timelines. National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened."

Britain's new coalition government also announced it would reduce the defence budget by at least 25 per cent as part of massive cuts across the board to try to save the bankrupt British economy.

Cleverly taking advantage of the electorate's revulsion with the war, Hague's bold call for withdrawal was no doubt sparked by Karzai's address at the US Institute of Peace last week, where he once again predicted an extended US commitment to Afghanistan that would last "beyond the military activity right now " into the future, long after we have retired, and perhaps into our grandsons' and great-grandsons' -- and great-granddaughters' -- generations. This is something the Afghan people have been seeking for a long, long time." Clearly, unlike the unborn great-grandaughters of Afghans, the Brits want no part of any such plans.

The only way withdrawal will be possible, of course, is if accommodation is reached with the Taliban. So it is no surprise that talk of peace talks continues to make headlines. What was referred to by Al-Jazeera as the second meeting between Taliban and Afghan government officials hosted by the Maldives (a Muslim statelet that actually issues visas to Afghans on arrival) took place last week. It was organised by Feroz and Jarir Hekmatyar, the son and son-in-law of Gulbadin Hakmatyar, an Afghan warlord and leader of the insignificant Hezb-e-Islami party.

Karzai was rumoured to be unhappy that the talks are taking place, but nonetheless sent observers. Hekmatyar sent a delegation to Kabul for talks in March, clearly trying to use the opportunity to upstage the main Taliban opposition.

Qari Zia-ur-Rehman, a Taliban commander in Kunar province, told Pakistan's The News, "The reports of negotiations between the Islamic Emirate and Karzai regime are bogus and no leader of the Islamic Emirate is engaged in talks with the puppet administration in Kabul," reiterating that the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was a precondition for any peace talks. He explained that Karzai is using such talks as a ruse to convince the US that he can divide the Taliban and negotiate them into submission. Former Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence director Hamid Gul asks, "How can Taliban hold talks with a government which has never been recognised by them?"

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)

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