Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Diplomats Expelled from Afghanistan

A diplomatic set-to is brewing in Afghanistan in the wake of a Briton and an Irishman being declared "Persona Non Grata" and ordered to leave the country by Thursday. The men, who work for the European Union and the United Nations stand accused of threatening state security by meeting with Taliban insurgents. Both men have worked in Afghanistan for over a decade, even when the Taliban was in charge in the country. Both are well versed in local languages and customs.

The Afghan government accused the men of meeting with members of the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, where the Taliban insurgency has a stronghold. Helmand province where the majority of the opium poppies are grown and harvested. "Not only did they hold talks with the Taliban, but also had given them money," the Afghan official said. "It is not clear whether they were supporting the insurgency or not."

It is unclear at present whether the meeting was a personal undertaking, or whether they were acting in an official capacity. Approximately 50 Afghans, some of whom are colleagues of the men, have been detained for questioning and investigations over their links to the matter.

Western diplomats sprang to the defense of the two men, insisting that it was all a misunderstanding, and that they hoped the men would be allowed to return quickly. They insist that the men were likely meeting with tribal leaders, and didn't set out to negotiate with the taliban. The skill set the men possess are vital to the success of the multiple programs and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are struggling to run reconstruction and development projects.

The greatest threat to humanitarian progress in Afghanistan is the strengthening Taliban insurgency, particularly in the southern and eastern portions of the country where the remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network sow distention and stoke the fires of insurgency.

The unnamed Afghan official that spoke to Reuters said that the meeting in question took place in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province. Musa Qala is the region that sparked controversy earlier in the year when British forces withdrew after a deal was brokered with tribal elders to police themselves. That agreement was blasted by the Afghan government after Taliban insurgents promptly took over control of the region and held it until they were driven out two weeks ago by NATO and Afghan forces.

The Afghan government has little popular support in the Taliban strongholds, and insists publicly that it does not negotiate with insurgents, but unofficially it is commonplace for frequent contacts to take place. Likewise, western governments and diplomats hold a similar public line, while privately arguing that dividing the insurgency and splitting the leadership is a legitimate strategy to be pursued.

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