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Guardian: Time for Negotiation in Afghanistan

December 13, 2010

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A group of nearly fifty experts and fieldworkers call on President Obama to explore a political settlement that includes the Taliban.

Mr President,

We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organisations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now more than $120bn per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. More than 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the US now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army was.

Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralised constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in 14 of the next 20 years.

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