Reuters reports that
The reaction has been negative and not just from the American Right
"Where are the so-called moderate Tal iban? Who are the moderate Taliban?" asked Mozhdah, who was an official in both the Taliban and the Karzai governments....
"Taliban leaders are behind the insurgency, not the so-called moderates. To put an end to the war, they have to be included in any talks, their views should be heard," Mozhdah said....
"'Moderate Taliban' is like 'moderate killer'. Is there such a thing?", asked writer and analyst Qaseem Akhgar...
Pakistani analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai welcomed Obama's proposal to engage with moderates, saying the United States was finally coming around to the realisation there would be no military solution.
But he too was sceptical about the chances of negotiating with the Taliban who have shown no hint of compromise on their main demand -- that foreign troops get out.
"They would like to pacify some elements of the Taliban but I have my doubts about this," he said.
"The Taliban are very rigid in their demands. They actually don't want to talk unless there is some guarantee that Western forces will leave," he said.
But I am not sure if this criticism is fair. According to the source New York Times article,the President does not explicitly say he is going to negotiate with the Taliban, at least not according to the reporting.
What the New York Times article actually quoted the President as saying was this:
Which is something quite different than their headline
And their lede
Now if he specifically said what was reported in the lede, that would be disturbing, but the actual quote is not.
In Iraq, we peeled off al Qaida affiliated insurgents by convincing them that aligning with us was in their and their countries best interests. We did not negotiate with al Qaida. And our job was made easier by al Qaida themselves whose tactics alienated the very groups who were originally sympatetic to them.
As the following report from Afghanistan indicates, al Qaida and the Taliban may be making the very same mistake in Afghanistan which would, with the right strategy, allow us to peel off Taliban-affiliated insurgents.
Posted: 03.06.2009 01:27
WASHINGTON - Insurgents in Afghanistan employ intimidation and barbaric acts in attempts to cow Afghan civilians to submit to their will or stay nonaligned in the struggle for the country, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Afghanistan said today.
For example, insurgents routinely place threatening letters onto the exteriors of schools and government buildings during the night, Army Col. John P. Johnson, commander of Combined Task Force Currahee, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
Johnson's task force, centered on the 506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, from Fort Campbell, Ky., has been in Afghanistan nearly a year. His headquarters is at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khowst province. The command covers an area about the size of Maryland and is responsible for activities in Paktia and Paktika provinces, as well.
Insurgents in his area "act in a ruthless and barbaric manner," Johnson said. During a recent incident in eastern Paktika province, he recalled, insurgents murdered three tribal elders after they'd attended a meeting with Afghan and coalition officials.
The insurgents showed up several days later and "essentially decapitated" the three elders, Johnson said, and then burned their bodies atop a pile of coalition-provided humanitarian goods that was set afire.
"It just demonstrates the viciousness, ruthlessness, a lack of humanity that [the insurgents] can use to intimidate a population," Johnson said. "This is a country that very much is run in large sense by the rumors that are generated through the population."
News or rumors of insurgent outrages travel to cities and villages, Johnson said.
"So, it's a very strong and ruthless form of intimidation" that's practiced by the insurgents, Johnson said.
"They don't just make idle threats, they actually carry them out in a barbaric fashion," the colonel said.
Insurgent violence has made some villagers afraid to cooperate with Afghan and coalition officials, Johnson said.
However, he said, increased voter registration in his area of operations indicates how Afghan civilians "really stand in terms of wanting to preserve a right to vote [and] for some representative system that can provide a better way ahead."
Meanwhile, U.S., coalition and Afghan authorities are working together to confront insurgent propaganda, intimidation and violence, Johnson said.
"We certainly maximize the utility of the airwaves," Johnson said. "Radio is very much a strong form of communication that we use. The enemy also uses it in a much lesser form."
Afghan government and security leaders "get on these radios and they talk directly to the people," Johnson explained. The biggest task for the Afghan's anti-insurgent information program, he said, seems to be finding a cohesive message that resonates from the national to local levels of Afghan society.
"We continue to work on that. We continue to improve oral communication with our Afghan partners," Johnson said. "But, that's critical, I think, to get that message right, from the village all the way up to the national level."
Afghan security forces are stepping up to confront the insurgents, Johnson said. He praised the contributions of the Afghan army's 203rd Corps, which he said has developed the ability to plan and conduct simultaneous and nearly independent brigade-sized operations in the past year.
"What threatens the enemy the most this year is the increased capability and capacity of the Afghan national security forces," Johnson said. The Afghan army, he said, is "the backbone of this effort" and is making a difference in the anti-insurgent campaign.
Johnson's command is a mountainous region that's part of the U.S.-led Regional Command-East. His task force once had responsibility for six Afghan provinces. All three of the provinces now under Johnson's purview are along the Pakistan border.
A Polish task force took over responsibility for Ghazni province in November, Johnson said, while an infantry brigade combat team from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division has overseen activities in Lowgar and Wardak provinces since last month.
Most enemy fighters in his area, Johnson said, are not native Afghans, but rather foreigners that cross over from Pakistan. Enemy attacks have increased in his sector by about 20 percent from a year ago, he estimated.
"We do not see platoons [of insurgents] drawn from the local population to conduct major attacks," Johnson said. "To me, this reflects a lack of willingness within the population to actively support the enemy's efforts and the importance of external support for them to achieve their goals."
The presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan highlights the importance of improving security along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Johnson said.
"Our effort to build up the Afghan border police is essential to our success here," Johnson said.
Reconstruction and humanitarian efforts continue throughout his sector, Johnson said, citing the ongoing construction of the Khowst-to-Gardez highway. When completed, the road will connect Khowst to the interior of Afghanistan and bring "much-needed services and security to a very important population," he said.
Meanwhile, Johnson said, it's imperative to "improve our ability to properly communicate the true nature of this enemy to a population bombarded by a relatively effective [enemy] propaganda campaign, and more importantly, an intimidation campaign."
Clearly with an "engage, hold, and build" mission similar to what was done in Iraq, there may very well be opportunities for us to exploit "comparable opportunities in Afghanistan".
On the other hand, if the President did mean that he was willing to engage the Taliban in negotiations, this article makes clear why such an initiative must fail.
Time will tell...