News: Killer surge could be saving grace

THOUGH much in vogue among the political class in London and Washington, there is little appetite for “talking to the Taliban” in southern Afghanistan.

Soldiers here prefer to shoot them. And there is no mistaking the appetite with which they do so after fighting a counter-insurgency for so long on the back foot.

Things are changing in southern Afghanistan, seat of the insurgency and the focal point of US President Barack Obama’s surge strategy. For the first time since they arrived, NATO units are in a position to fight and develop civil infrastructure.

The effects have been immediate and obvious. In the past, Kandahar city was so insecure that 10 ute-loads of gunmen could have seized control of the whole metropolis. This week, working there unembedded, I felt entirely relaxed. Violence continues. The deputy mayor was assassinated this week and several children died in a Taliban bombing on the outskirts. But the scale and intensity of it pales into insignificance beside the past seven years.

As important as any military development, rural Afghans have been given the chance to express their grievances in local councils, which feed upwards to provincial authorities. They are being given the hope of a better life. The Taliban, meanwhile, are being “atritted” – the jargon for killed – at levels never seen before.

NATO has stopped chastising local villains and is embracing them as part of the solution. Never mind that the results of this pragmatic policy, long overdue, may not be too pretty.

“All we have to do is take the Taliban out of the equation,” one Western diplomat said.

“That’s what the American people expected of its troops. They couldn’t care (less) about organised crime – they have enough of that at home.”

So, at last, are we witnessing a credible NATO policy in Afghanistan? It is a raw, scarfaced approach and none of this, of course, is victory. But it makes defeat – so possible a year ago – seem suddenly very unlikely. As the surge kills, so perhaps it saves.