Steve Coll in The National:
If the American-led war in Afghanistan fails to contain the Taliban, it will not be for lack of resources or military talent; it will be because American leaders have failed to see and analyse the conflict’s diverse human terrain. Afghanistan may be known as a graveyard of empires but it is also a graveyard of generalisations. As the US Commanding General in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, pointed out in his pessimistic assessment of the war last summer, international forces operating in Afghanistan have “not sufficiently studied Afghanistan’s peoples, whose needs, identities and grievances vary from province to province and from valley to valley”.
The present American approach, derived from counterinsurgency doctrine, now presumes that political and economic tactics to pacify the Taliban will prove more effective than military force. But such a politics-first strategy, premised on forging a path toward negotiations with at least some Taliban elements, will require sharp eyesight about the Taliban’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as its place in Afghanistan’s social, tribal and cultural topography.