Bill Burns – A Glimmer of Hope | Charles Duelfer

Bill Burns – A Glimmer of Hope

Finally there is some ground for imagining a glimmer of hope in Afghanistan. CIA Director Bill Burns is reported to have met with Taliban leadership in Kabul Monday. Burns is exactly the right person with, hopefully, the right amount of leverage and authority. Regarding the immediate crisis of getting people out of Afghanistan safely, one can imagine a path forward that allows civil evacuation operations (not US military) that might be agreeable to the Taliban. It could be a way to demonstrate the Taliban can operate the airport responsibly and gain some credence internationally and avoid a military crisis at current deadline of 31 August.

Moreover, if the Taliban demonstrate more moderate behavior (akin to their public statements), it might not be delusional to imagine a future where development of relations and business between the US and Kabul is possible. There are demonstrable interests at stake for the US. Consider simply the welfare of the Afghan people, the mineral resources that China clearly expects to inherit, the control of territory that could easily revert to breeding and training Al Qaeda and those who explicitly seek to attack the US at home and abroad.

For all of the despicable acts of the Taliban in the past, it is possible their actions in the future may be moderated. Do they want to be strictly dependent upon China, or seen as a pawn of Russia? In American jargon, they may be the dog that caught the car. Suddenly they have a big country to run—again. They failed last time. Possibly they will recognize they need connections to the international systems for finance, health, education, training, etc. They may find they need the West.

A Taliban government in Afghanistan is certainly not what we hoped for. But we may still be able to avoid some of the worst outcomes. There are an imaginable series of steps where joint interests intersect. Steering toward them and avoiding landmines (including many placed by opponents beyond the Taliban–e.g. Beijing and Moscow) may be possible with much luck and skill.

Bill Burns, with his long practical experience at State department and current position heading an agency where he should be able to operate with discretion and authority is the best reason for hope.

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