The antipolio campaign brings together the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai’s central government, Unicef and the World Health Organization in an uneasy but functioning partnership — one that recognizes the reality of the insurgents’ stranglehold over large chunks of the country.
“We always carry a copy [of the letter] with us,” says Dr. Attar Wafa, left, chief of polio vaccinations in Laghman province.
The arrangement shows the possibilities and perils of cooperating with the Taliban. It brings the world a major step closer to eradicating a crippling disease. Yet “there is no doubt that it is a political victory for the Taliban,” says Afghan lawmaker Sardar Oghli. “The Taliban are trying to show the world that they are in control.”
Mr. Karzai, with Western backing, has repeatedly called for ending the eight-year Afghan war through a broad political settlement with the insurgents. The Taliban leadership has rejected negotiations with Kabul as long as U.S.-led foreign troops remain in the country. But the antipolio drive is already leading to de-facto collaboration between the insurgents and representatives of Mr. Karzai’s administration.
“There used to be a ping-pong diplomacy, and now we have a vaccination diplomacy,” says Afghan parliament member Daud Sultanzoi, referring to the sports contacts between China and the U.S. in the 1970s that paved the way for talks between the two nations.
For U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan, the arrangement represents a moral dilemma. Coalition military officials shy away from criticizing the WHO and Unicef for reaching out to the Taliban. In an interview, U.S. Lt.-Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces here, said: “We support all the efforts to help the people of Afghanistan.”
Nevertheless, the fact that the international community and Afghan government authorities must request Taliban permission to operate in large parts of the country makes some Western officials wince. “It’s a pact with the devil,” says one senior Western diplomat in Kabul. “But it’s a pact in order to save lives.”
2010-01-10 17:12:37 UTC