'Taliban likely to negotiate with new Afghan govt'
RT:How do you feel the security situation in Afghanistan has changed since the US intervention?
Conn Hallinan: The US intervention hasn’t really changed things fundamentally in Afghanistan. The effect of the new elections will be that they have the possibility of creating conditions that might go in the direction of a political resolution. Right now, the Taliban’s position is that they won’t negotiate with Karzai’s government; they kind of pinned themselves into a corner on that one. What they are looking for is a change of government and that gives them the opportunity to begin to talk about some sort of real political resolution of the situation. There isn’t certainly a military solution.
RT:It's a critical year for Afghanistan, a huge test as a democracy as well as a huge test of its ability to maintain security. What dangers can Afghanistan face after the US troops leave?
CH: The US really hasn’t played a major security role for quite some time. Afghanistan was never secure, even when there were 100,000 US troops. Now there are 30,000 US troops, but the loss of the US troops won’t make a major difference in terms of security. Most people in the countryside would just rather the war is over. The US troops are not protecting those people in any case. I think it’s an error to look at the role at this point of the US in Afghanistan and also of the pressure by the US to maintain military forces in Afghanistan; it’s a question of security. I think it has more to do with the fact that the US wants a military footprint on the border of Pakistan and Iran, and therefore, regardless of how many US troops remain in Afghanistan, it’s not going to have a great deal of effect on security. Security is going to be secured when and if there is a political resolution between the Taliban and other groups in the country.
RT:What about the Taliban, do you think the Afghan army can effectively take them on?
CH: The US army couldn’t defeat the Taliban, so I can’t imagine the Afghan army could defeat it. It doesn’t mean that the Taliban is going to somehow overrun the country. First of all, even at the height of their power they never controlled the whole Afghanistan, the northern part of Afghanistan was always Taliban-free. I think that the Taliban, and they have said this on a number of occasions over the past few years, are looking for a political resolution.
It’s very complex because one of the effects of the assassination program by the US on Taliban leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is that a lot of the leadership has now been inherited by much younger and less experienced leaders, and it’s going to be a little bit harder to gather and sit down in the same room.
I think the solution is really going to be ultimately that the Taliban will be willing to sit down; they just aren’t willing to sit down with Karzai’s government. Will they put up with the presence of the US troops in Afghanistan? On that you get different statements by different members of the Taliban. I think in general the US will have to withdraw, but it is possible that for a period of time even the Taliban would put up with a certain number of bases.
RT:What do you expect from the upcoming presidential elections in the country?
CH: It depends on what’s going to happen in this election. Normally what you've had in Karzai’s government is that Karzai is a Pashtun and Pashtuns represent about 42 percent to 45 percent of the population, but it was largely a Tajik government. Any government that emerges now is going to have to be a much better balanced government: it’s going to have to represent the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Hazar and it is going to have a large presence of Pashtun. As long as there is not a large presence of Pashtun, I don’t think there is any hope for peace in Afghanistan. But I do think that even the Taliban at this point are wary of the war, and if there is a serious political solution offered (which means that you cannot go with the current constitution, it’s going to have to be rewritten), then I think there is a possibility for peace. It also depends on what regional actors do – Iran, India, Pakistan, etc.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.