Award-winning Afghan reporter Najibullah Quraishi writes about his experiences making the documentary, Afghanistan: Behind Enemy Lines
Amid all the hot air at last week's international conference on the future of Afghanistan came the West's latest big idea to bring peace to this war-torn and shattered nation. Instead of trying to succeed where all others have failed in – crushing Afghan revolt by force – the international community has decided it should simply put the Taliban on the payroll and ask them nicely to lay down their arms.
A global fund of £80 million has been already raised to buy off the Taliban leadership, who will effectively be paid to keep the peace. This initiative, we are told, will turn the tide of the conflict in Afghanistan anmd bring peace and prosperity to the people.
It's a nice idea, but it is doomed to end in failure and recrimination. I have just returned from the extremist camps in northern Afghanistan, where I was making the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Afghanistan: Behind Enemy Lines. I saw and filmed the Islamic fighters at work and at play. I watched them train, saw them laying roadside bombs. I heard their songs about beating the British a hundred years ago and doing the same thing now. And went on an operation with them against the Afghan army.
The first thing you notice about these fighters is that they are not motivated by money. Many of them proudly told us that their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and wives were paying for them to join the Jihad. The second alarming fact is that their numbers are swelling in reaction to the presence of the Western forces, rather than dwindling away.
In this country, most attention has so far been paid to the hostile southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where British forces are based and where insurgents have cut off the traditional supply routes to the country through the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.
In response, the Allies have set up a new supply routes through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan into the North of the country. Now, under the noses of the NATO forces, the Islamic opposition are setting up a second front to attack this previously peaceful region and cut off these supply lines.
I learned that the Hisb-i-Islami, probably the most extreme Islamist group, has around 4,000 troops in the region and that the Taliban, whose members are mostly recruited from Pakistan and Southern Afghanistan, will have another 4,000 fighters by the summer.
The forces of Hisb-i-Islami are regarded as being closest to Osama bin Laden. Among their ranks were Islamic fundamentalists from Chechnya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Though I wasn't supposed to know about them, there were also Arabs present. The reason for the secrecy was that these were core fundamentalists closely connected to al Qaeda.
I talked to these fighters about their leader, the warlord and former mujahadeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is believed to be one of those engaged in negotiations with the American military leaders. 'We will follow him,' they said, 'as long as he remains devoted to three things: Allah, shariah law and the removal of the occupying forces of America and Britain.' And what if Hekmatyar does a deal? 'Then we will fight on without him.'
The sad truth is that when the Allied forces first came to Afghanistan in 2001, they were welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Afghans as the the army that would liberate them from the Taliban. Now the British and Americans are seen as an occupying force. History tells us that the Afghans will resist occupying forces with every means available to them.
In Kabul and the other urban centres, it is still not difficult to find people who oppose the extremism of the Taliban. But during my visit, I couldn't find a single person who wanted the Western army to stay in Afghanistan. Travel outside the capital, where 85 per cent of the population live and it's easy to see why.
Here, the people of a country that was already ravaged and broken by two decades of war when the Allied armies arrived are far, far poorer than they were nine years ago. These are people who struggle on a daily basis to feed themselves, who have no schools, no clinics or medical care, no power, clean water or agricultural technology.
Yet billions of pounds have been poured into Afghanistan over the last nine years. The trouble is that the West has turned a blind eye to the morass of appalling corruption at the heart of Karzai's regime. Every ministry is a quagmire of nepotism, stuffed full of brothers, cousins and tribal allies. Instead of helping the Afghan people, all this money has simply been syphoned away to enrich a corrupt few.
That's why this latest scheme to buy the acquiescence of the Taliban and other Islamist groups is doomed to failure. the vast majority of this multi-million pound bribe will end up in the secret bank accounts of the Government fatcats in Kabul.
Meanwhile they, of course, will be clever enough to ensure that some of the money goes to the village leaders in the countryside. The village leaders will, in turn, pocket most of the money that reaches them. But they will, in turn, be clever enough to ensure that just enough peasants are paid to be seen to lay down their arms. The violence may calm down for a month or two, but resentment at the continuing Western failure to build a lasting infastructure or improve the lives of the typical Afghan farmer will continue. The Western money will, inevitably, be spent on newer and better weapons. And when the hostility resumes, it will be fiercer than ever.
This huge bribe does nothing to hide the fact that the West has failed Afghanistan and the Afghan people know it. America and Britain took their eye off what was going on in Afghanistan as soon as they decided to invade Iraq. They knew the Kabul regime was hopelessly corrupt, yet chose to do nothing. They knew the elections were a farce, yet failed to step in. They knew that nothing was being done to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people yet concentrated on military force. Now they are pinning their hopes on an expensive bribe that is also doomed to fail.
The single ray of hope we saw in Afghanistan came from hints from some fighters that they chose to fight 'like brothers' with the Islamic fundamentalists only because they had a common enemy: the 'occupying' forces of the West.
When asked what would happen after the British and Americans went home, they said their fire would then be turned on the religious extremists from central Asia, Pakistan and the Arab states, so that Afghanistan could once again be returned to the Afghans.
By Najibullah Quraishi; February 2010