Where does the way out of Afghanistan lie?

On Saturday, March 26, Taliban fighters ambushed and kidnapped more than 40 Afghan youths in the northeastern province of Kunar. On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 13 people and wounded dozens in the eastern province of Panktika.

Similar reports have been coming in from Afghanistan at an increasing fate for the last several months, so both of the above episodes could have gone unnoticed. But for a number of factors.

First, kidnapping 40 people (some reports put the figure at 50) is unusual even within the background of unending violence in Afghanistan.

Second, the question remains: who were the kidnapped? The Taliban officials claim that they were police officers carrying arms. They were kept for some time in a nearby village and released after they promised not to work for the government.

The provincial police chief gives a different picture. According to him, those kidnapped were youngsters who had applied for police service but were turned down because the local police had no vacancies for them.

Whatever the particulars of the whole incident, it shows that the local authorities are not in charge of the territories thought to be vital in the fight against terrorism. What makes things even more complicated is the fact that recently the NATO allied forces started pulling out of this particular region shifting their attention to protecting only population centers and leaving most of the terrain to whatever forces operate there.

More so, as previous experience has shown, winter (which basically has not yet ended in the mountainous areas) is usually a relatively calm period. It is spring (starting in April or May in most regions) that marks a sharp rise in the insurgents’ activities. The fact that incidents like those that occurred on Saturday and Sunday took place in March, must be disturbing both for the Afghan government and the NATO command.

This makes it rather doubtful that the promised pullout due to begin in July this year and to be completed by the end of 2014 is going to result in a lasting peace in that war-torn country. The fact is that anti-American sentiment is growing and the insurgents are gaining momentum. When speaking about the latter, we usually refer to the Taliban or sometimes Al Qaeda, although the actual number of forces opposing the Hamid Karzai government and the Western presence in the country by far exceeds this list.

This forces the West to look for options that would guarantee that their withdrawal will not resemble the Soviet withdrawal from the same country in 1989. That time it resulted, first in the victory of rather disintegrated factions of the mujahedeen fighters, and finally, in the triumph of the Taliban. So, this depends on finding a possible partner that can guarantee at least relative stability.

As The Guardian wrote on Monday, “Taliban talks could be closer” pointing to the fact that State Secretary Hillary Clinton was the first among the top-ranking US officials to directly point to the need to build bridges in order to reach to the Taliban. “I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace,” she said last month at the Asia Society in New York.

At the same time, the Pentagon officials do not seem to agree with the line still insisting that a military victory over their primary adversary is attainable. Therefore, concludes The Guardian, “They (the US civilian officials. – BV) just have to convince the Pentagon”.

What might be even a harder task, is convincing the Afghans themselves. The latest issue of Rolling Stones magazine has published a dramatic story of how American soldiers killed ordinary Afghans for the  fun of it, or for sports, mutilated their bodies, and later their officers tried to conceal these incidents, and the Pentagon censored all the stories related to them.

What makes the story even more frightful is the tone describing the US soldiers’ attitude to this “sport”. None of them seemed to realize that killing an innocent 15-year-old Afghan boy having no weapon (even as murderous as a spade) was in any way different from killing, say, a rat or a rabbit. The only thing they were concerned about was whether they could get away with it unpunished.

Since such incidents are not at all rare (the magazine relates only a few), it is hard to imagine how the new Afghan leadership (whoever it is, but if it wants to rely upon the people’s loyalty), will be able to come to friendly terms with the US. At present, even the acting president Karzai (widely perceived as the US minion) tends to show his irritation with his Western bosses more and more often.

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