Why the Taliban won’t be bought off

Sun Tzu wrote:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

When people talk about buying off the Taliban on the principle that every man has his price, they are making what through the centuries has been recognized as the greatest mistake in warfare: to have inadequate respect for your enemy.

There’s no question that the adversary in Afghanistan fights with the conviction that he has God on his side and that an imbalance in military power has been more than compensated for by divine help. Why would such a fighter trade God for gold? To imagine that he would is to treat his faith as a charade.

Representatives from nearly 70 countries showed up in London on Jan. 28 for a one-day conference on how to save Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was there, gamely offering “peace and reconciliation” to all Afghans, “especially” those “who are not a part of Al Qaeda or other terrorist networks.” He didn’t mention why the Taliban would accept such an offer while they believe they’re winning the war. Others at the conference had what they evidently considered more realistic solutions—such as paying Taliban fighters to quit the insurgency. Participants reportedly pledged some $500 million to support that aim. “You don’t make peace with your friends,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. True enough. But what if your enemies don’t want peace?

My Newsweek colleague Sami Yousafzai laughs at the notion that the Taliban can be bought or bribed. Few journalists, officials, or analysts know the Taliban the way he does. If the leadership, commanders, and subcommanders wanted comfortable lives, he says, they would have made their deals long ago. Instead they stayed committed to their cause even when they were on the run, with barely a hope of survival. Now they’re back in action across much of the south, east, and west, the provinces surrounding Kabul, and chunks of the north. They used to hope they might reach this point in 15 or 20 years. They’ve done it in eight. Many of them see this as proof that God is indeed on their side.

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