Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Taliban talks 'needed decade ago'

General Nick Carter said it would have been more successful for the West to seek talks with the Taliban in 2002

The West should have attempted talks with the Taliban a decade ago, a senior British commander in Afghanistan has said, after efforts to negotiate with the insurgents have faltered.

General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, told The Guardian that it would have been more successful to approach the Taliban in 2002 after they were knocked from power.

The United States and Afghanistan are still waiting to hear from the Taliban about opening peace talks, but remain willing to go ahead with negotiations despite a stir the militant group caused in opening a new office in Qatar.

Gen Carter told The Guardian: "Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run. I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future."

Acknowledging the benefit of hindsight, he added: "The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other."

As the US and UK prepare to pull their troops from Afghanistan next year, Gen Carter said the Kabul government may have to accept they may only have shaky control over some remote areas of the country for some years.

However, he insisted Afghan forces were strong enough to be taking over control from Nato, a move he believed would eventually bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

"What the opponents of the Afghan government now realise is they are likely to be up against capable Afghan security forces who are going to be here in perpetuity and therefore that old adage that 'We have the clocks but the Taliban have the time', has now been reversed," he told the newspaper.

"They are now up against security forces who have the time, and they are also Afghan forces ... for those reasons I think that there is every chance people will realise that talking is the answer to this problem," added Gen Carter, who previously served as the top Nato officer in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's birthplace.

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