I've been a staunch fence-sitter when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. I can sympathise with the argument that we shouldn't have gone in there in the first place, but now we're there, we can't just leave the place a first class disaster. However, if we're looking at how we got to where we are, we have to consider that the US shouldn't have armed the Taliban in the first place. And then we'd need to consider that the USSR shouldn't have invaded it in the first place, and then we'd need to consider the fallout from WWII, so I'm not terribly sure that arguments that have any portion based in history are very helpful.
I also sympathise with the argument that the Taliban are never going to stop fighting while foreign troops are in their country. Can't say I entirely blame them - and more importantly, once they've used that argument to justify the fighting to themselves, they've painted themselves into a corner. Only a withdrawal can offer a way out.
So I've been listening to and mulling over the various arguments put by the various people and come to an Opinion. This is an opinion on what Australia's position should be, since that's what our Parliament recently debated. I think we should state loudly and clearly that we will only continue to support this war as long as genuine negotiations are undertaken (continued?) with the Taliban.
I have a few reasons for this. We will be fighting forever (and therefore killing civilians forever) if some negotiated agreement can't be reached. The Karzai Government is hardly a shining beacon of democratic light, it's hard to see how they are the Good Guys and the Taliban are the Bad Guys. The Taliban, as far I as I can make out from the reports I've seen and read, are primarily war lords, and use religion as a method of wielding power. I (and other commentators) strongly suspect that they would be open to liberalising their stance on Sharia law and other aspects of conservative Islam in exchange for other forms of international political power. They want a seat at the table with the Big Boys much more than they want to oppress the people of Afghanistan. In the end, we turned Afghanistan into a war zone, and our primary responsibility is to bring it back out of war, and I simply don't believe that the Taliban can be wiped out to the point that the war stops by that means and it seems incredibly unlikely that the Taliban will surrender. As a result, the only possible outcome is a negotiated power sharing arrangement. We should be pushing for that as soon as possible. Any further delay just means more people die.
Under those conditions, I'd say it's our duty to stay there until stability is achieved. If the foreign alliance is not moving towards stability, then I think we should withdraw our support and at least not contribute to making the situation any worse.
I should say that it seems that some movement has been made in the direction of negotiation, and I support that. I simply think that Australia should make its position clear that this is what we support, and not open ended warfare in someone else's country.