The new conventional wisdom is that the Afghanistan war is unwinnable, said Jochen Buchsteiner in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “We all know that we can’t win militarily,” the U.N.’s top representative in Kabul, Kai Eide, said last week. His words were echoed almost verbatim by two top generals in the field, NATO commander Richard Blanchette and British commander Mark Carleton-Smith. British diplomats have reportedly told their French colleagues that it’s time to find an “acceptable dictator” and get out. And newspapers in the U.S. reported last week that the next U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan would conclude that the country is in a “downward spiral.” There also have been reports that the Afghan government has been secretly meeting with the Taliban, trying to work out some kind of peace deal. Is it time to give up hope of victory and just call a truce?
The West has already checked out of the Afghan conflict—at least mentally, said Pakistan’s Daily Times in an editorial. The Brits are openly talking about pulling their troops out, and the Canadians won’t be far behind. At a meeting of NATO defense ministers last week, the Germans pledged 1,000 more troops—but only with the stipulation that the soldiers wouldn’t be deployed in the actual war zone of the south. No wonder everyone is demoralized. Seven years of fighting in Afghanistan has not stabilized the country. It may be time to turn away from fighting and toward politics. A “regional forum that includes India, Pakistan, and Iran may be better.”
NATO is not ready to give up, said Peter Worthington in Canada’s Edmonton Sun. Let’s not read too much into the generals’ statements—they’re not saying that we’re losing, just that we can’t hope for an outright military solution. That’s fine: A military victory “was never the goal anyway.” NATO forces are not trying to kill every last Taliban militant, but rather to bring “security and stability” to Afghanistan. “Victory will be when Afghan forces control their own destiny, and the Afghan government can settle its own problems.”
The main thing NATO can do to help the Afghan government, said Laurent Zecchini in France’s Le Monde, is to cut off the Taliban’s main source of funding: heroin. The NATO defense ministers have agreed for the first time to target the opium trade directly. The Taliban makes more than $80 million a year growing opium and converting it into heroin. As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, this drug money not only buys the Taliban weapons, it also buys them corrupt Afghan politicians—possibly including the brother of President Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan’s only hope for a stable government is to get the opium trade under control.