R. Rose
June 25, 2013

US talks with Taliban – a reason for sober reflection

I crave the indulgence of my readers this week for digressing from my planned topics. Last week, I started a piece on “Carnival Reminiscences”, the second part of which was due today. {{more}}Unfortunately, in travelling out of the country, I forgot my original notes, and not wanting to ramble, decided to touch on matters of international concern. Those matters relate to US policy, especially in regard to the Caribbean. I shall conclude the Carnival memories next week, fitting in with the Carnival celebrations.

First, many among us, particularly those who slavishly echo American policy positions, would have been caught by surprise last week by the announcement that the United States of America is to hold talks with the Afghan Taliban. With whom? The Taliban? Not the same Taliban that the US has told us over the years is about the worst set of human beings on the face of the planet earth where human rights are concerned!

After all, the Taliban, when in power in Afghanistan, harboured the terrorist Al Quaeda organisation, the group responsible for the horror of 9/11. So terrible did the US view the Taliban that one month after 9/11, in October 2001, the then President Bush ordered full-scale war against the Taliban, invading Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and install a government more favourable to its interests.

The US has been stuck in Afghanistan since, still fighting the very Taliban. The war has cost more than 2,200 American lives, young men and women, with more than 18,000 soldiers wounded and maimed. That war, together with the war in Iraq, has expended more than one trillion, four hundred billion US dollars (US$1,449,000,000,000) and is a major contributor to the serious economic difficulties affecting the USA, and, by extension the global economy.

In addition, the domestic policy of the Taliban, in and out of government, has been marked by some of the worst human rights abuses of modern times, well-documented by the United Nations. Their brutal treatment of women is particularly well-known as it is repulsive and their many other crimes – denying food supplies to starving civilians, human trafficking and even whole-scale massacres – has earned the wrath of all decent people the world over.

In spite of this, the US, anxious to be rid of the Afghan burden, is being realistic in deciding to talk peace with its sworn enemy. That is all well and good. However, it immediately raises a flagrant contradiction. Less than 100 miles from American territory lies the Caribbean country of Cuba. The United States and Cuba have been at loggerheads since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. All official ties with Cuba were cut off by the US and a total embargo placed on that country.

Since then, the US has fought wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, Panama and even tiny Grenada, not to forget Libya, besides the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has since made peace and re-opened relations, including trade and aid, to all of those previous enemies. Not so in the case of Cuba. How could one justify talking with the Taliban, accused instigators of terrorism, including on US soil, but maintain a total blockade where Cuba is concerned?

To be fair, since President Obama took office, there has been a slight easing of restrictions on contacts with Cuba, and the Cuban government, under current President Raul Castro, has reciprocated with a number of domestic reforms. There has been some quiet diplomacy to increase contact and co-operation on some issues, but fundamentally, the United States continues to treat Cuba as a pariah state. This is not only ridiculous, but it is also grossly unfair.

Cuba is an integral part of the Caribbean, and in spite of nice smiles, there is little evidence that Caribbean interests and concerns are on the US global radar. Though we always get the proverbial ‘flu’ anytime the US economy sneezes, there is little evidence that our interests and concerns register with the White House. We were all elated and very proud to have a black president, but it has brought us precious little in benefits. That black president’s administration even stepped up the dreaded deportations of Caribbean nationals.

President Obama visited Trinidad on the occasion of the Summit of the Americas in 2009, but, no impact. His Vice-President Joe Biden has just visited, for one day, only sparing 90 minutes with our elected leaders. Is that good enough for a friend, an ally, a country in which we believe above all else?

By contrast, the President of the People’s Republic of China, also made a recent visit to Trinidad. While, in keeping with Chinese policy, President Xi Jingping only held discussions with the nine countries that have diplomatic relations with his country, he not only met their leaders jointly, he also made time for individual discussions with each of them. That shows respect. Further, at the end of his visit, the Chinese leader announced that China is to make US$ 3 billion available to those countries on concessionary terms.

That is not to say that China is any saint, but neither is any other country in the world. Is it not time for the United States to treat us with more respect, show greater practical concern for our challenges and extend that hand of solidarity? We felt 9/11 as if our own territory were bombed; we expressed total support for the wars against the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi; we rejoiced at the invasion of Grenada, where has it put us?

It is not just the heads of those in the White House which need to be examined, we too need to do some hard rethinking about the realities of today’s world.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social com- mentator.