A recent article by Robert Fisk raises severe doubts about the optimistic accounts on future developments in Afghanistan emerging from recent interviews with Australian military officers.
Robert Fisk it should be noted has extensive acquaintance with the country going back to the time of the Russian invasion in the late 1970's. His account of his time there as a war correspondent in the The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East makes for engaging but ultimately highly sobering reading. His background understanding means that his comments should not be dismissed lightly.
In an article dated 27 November entitled 'Nobody supports the Taliban, but people hate the government' Fisk nails the dilemma for the international community:
The collapse of Afghanistan is closer than the world believes. Kandahar is in Taliban hands – all but a square mile at the centre of the city – and the first Taliban checkpoints are scarcely 15 miles from Kabul. Hamid Karzai's deeply corrupted government is almost as powerless as the Iraqi cabinet in Baghdad's "Green Zone"; lorry drivers in the country now carry business permits issued by the Taliban which operate their own courts in remote areas of the country.
The Red Cross has already warned that humanitarian operations are being drastically curtailed in ever larger areas of Afghanistan; more than 4,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, have been killed in the past 11 months, along with scores of Nato troops and about 30 aid workers. Both the Taliban and Mr Karzai's government are executing their prisoners in ever greater numbers. The Afghan authorities hanged five men this month for murder, kidnap or rape – one prisoner, a distant relative of Mr Karzai, predictably had his sentence commuted – and more than 100 others are now on Kabul's death row.
This is not the democratic, peaceful, resurgent, "gender-sensitive" Afghanistan that the world promised to create after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Outside the capital and the far north of the country, almost every woman wears the all-enshrouding burkha, while fighters are now joining the Taliban's ranks from Kashmir, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and even Turkey. More than 300 Turkish fighters are now believed to be in Afghanistan, many of them holding European passports.
Is it really the overriding ambition of Afghans to have "democracy"? Is a strong federal state possible in Afghanistan? Is the international community ready to take on the warlords and drug barons who are within Mr Karzai's own government? And – most important of all – is development really about "securing the country"? The tired old American adage that "where the Tarmac ends, the Taliban begins" is untrue. The Taliban are mounting checkpoints on those very same newly-built roads.
The Afghan Minister of Defence has 65,000 troops under his dubious command but says he needs 500,000 to control Afghanistan. The Soviets failed to contain the country even when they had 100,000 troops here with 150,000 Afghan soldiers in support. And as Barack Obama prepares to send another 7,000 US soldiers into the pit of Afghanistan, the Spanish and Italians are talking of leaving while the Norwegians may pull their 500 troops out of the area north of Heart. Repeatedly, Western leaders talk of the "key" – of training more and more Afghans to fight in the army. But that was the same "key" which the Russians tried – and it did not fit the lock.
"We" are not winning in Afghanistan. Talk of crushing the Taliban seems as bleakly unrealistic as it has ever been. Indeed, when the President of Afghanistan tries to talk to Mullah Omar – one of America's principal targets in this wretched war – you know the writing is on the wall. And even Mullah Omar didn't want to talk to Mr Karzai.