As the bloodiest year in Afghanistan comes to a close since the US led invasion of 2001, the British government is preparing new approaches to dealing with the situation confronting its forces. Since the beginning of the year over 6,000 people have been killed including 40 British soldiers. Th Cabinet approved a three prong approach to Afghanistan based on improving security, economic development and engaging in discussions with Taliban leaders. A high level source in the British government who accompanied Brown on his recent trip to Afghanistan, reported the prime minister said, “We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them? Can we be talking to them?” Several key British officials believe it is a mistake to regard the Taliban as a unified body. The “Taliban” is in reality a conglomeration of religious leaders, tribal chieftains, disgruntled farmers and some foreign fighters.
Gordon Brown is proposing a more complex and sophisticated approach to Afghanistan than the simplistic Bush/Cheney view that the Taliban is a unified coherent group led by religious figures. Brown is apparently distancing himself from the Blair/Bush military view of solving problems. Many British officials reject Bush’s emphasis on poppy eradication programs which only drive farmers into the open arms off the Taliban. Some have even suggested buying up the entire opium production as being more cost effective than fighting farmers and their Taliban allies. British troops have left Basra much to the dismay of American military leaders, and an emphasis on economic development and diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban will undoubtedly infuriate the Bush administration. The bottom line is simple, things are getting worse in Afghanistan and it is time to attempt new approaches. Brown is making an interesting proposal which should be attempted.