I was recently sent a link to an article by an Australian Lieutenant-Colonel called Jon Hawkins titled 'Assessing Afghanistan against Aden and Oman.' Essentially Oman was a successful counter insurgency whereas Aden was not. I also read this article about a power broker in southern Afghanistan called Matiullah Khan. I thought that both articles showed how history can repeat itself when we are not paying attention.
I agree with the thrust of the article by Jon Hawkins, especially in regards to the Aden experience in negotiating towards the end of the campaign when a withdrawal was already in sight. The recent US announcement that it was negotiating with the Taliban seemed to indicate that the Aden paradigm is in play again. There has already been a determination by key western powers that foreign forces will withdraw in 2014 so I do not think that ISAF or the US will be negotiating with the Taliban from a position of strength. I guess the ultimate strategic aim though is not to stabilise Afghanistan but to ensure that it is not used as a base for international terrorism. While that can possibly be achieved via negotiations I suspect that strategic aim is now worthless. International terrorism has moved into Pakistan and regardless of what happens in Afghanistan it will remain in Pakistan; unless there are some other actions being taken by the US that have not been announced. Although, the Pakistani reaction to the UBL killing showed that US actions in Pakistan have many second and third order effects.
Getting back to Afghanistan, even if the US signs an agreement with the Taliban what strength will it have. The recent history of Afghanistan is littered with broken agreements. Will the Haqqani Network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin also support an agreement with the US?
It is easy to be cynical about the outcome in Afghanistan but I do not think that there is much hope. While the Aden example is fitting, I suspect that Vietnam is also apt. The US pulled out after the Paris Peace Accords but fighting continued and the North Vietnamese eventually took Saigon in April 1975. I don't think that Afghanistan will be as dramatic but the fact that Hamid Karzai has kept his half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, in a position of power in Kandahar and that Border Police Commander Raziq is now a General and in charge of Kandahar's police may be seen as Karzai making hay while the sun shines.
Matiullah Khan is an interesting character with a lot of baggage. He appears to be an ally of convenience for the west but one who knows how to make the most of the situation. Given the likely withdrawal of western forces in 2014 Matiullah will probably be the biggest fish in Uruzgan Province. He is a product of a violent system and he will continue to exist in that system once the west leaves. Adopting the 'enemy of my enemy' as a friend has always been fraught with danger. The example of Chin Peng is one example that springs to mind. I doubt that Matiullah would ever openly attack the west or ISAF. I think it is more likely that he will become involved in an atrocity or crime (similar to Manuel Noriega) once ISAF withdraws yet his connections to the west will leave embarrassing questions to be answered by some governments about how much they really looked into that particular heart of darkness before they embraced him.
I heard Professor John Mearsheimer speak on a podcast recently and he made the point that nobody can predict the future, all we can do is develop a theory and test it against history as an indication about how well it may indicate what will occur. Well I think that Hawkins' paper has provided those indications and now we will wait for the future to in turn become history.