America's Next Moves in Afghanistan

Hassina Sherjan (L) speaking with Michael Hanna (R) at Asia Society New York

NEW YORK, June 23, 2011 — There is no need for discussion with the Taliban, according to Hassina Sherjan, co-author of Toughing It Out in Afghanistan and president of Aid Afghanistan for Education.

"I don't agree that there should be a talk; there are problems that need discussion, but this is not one of them," Sherjan said. "What should be happening is the nation-building that didn't happen."

Sherjan sees no role for the Taliban in any future Afghan government. By nation-building and solving social problems, she said, the Afghan people will reject the Taliban and its ideals on their own.

"We don't need the Taliban. The solution is development," Sherjan said. "Change will only come when we educate [the Afghan people], give them job security. If they feel like they can have a job and feed their families, they will defend themselves. They won't need [a] military."

Sherjan made these comments at Asia Society's panel discussion, "Is Reconciliation with the Taliban Possible in Afghanistan?", moderated by Michael W. Hanna of the Century Foundation. The panel met two days after President Obama's announcement of an accelerated drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan.

Sherjan's co-author on Toughing It Out in Afghanistan, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, was unfortunately unable to attend due to travel complications. But a panelist who could participate (albeit by Skype), Ali A. Jalali, Distinguished Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA) of the National Defense University, took issue with Sherjan's approach.

We do need to speak with the Taliban, the former Afghan Interior Minister argued, but first need to maintain military pressure to make them willing to talk.

"The Taliban are not convinced they cannot win militarily," said Jalali. "You have to create an environment that is conducive to discussion."

Though the two never saw eye-to-eye on what to do about the Taiban by the end of the panel, there was one thing they agreed upon: there was no easy answer to what the West should do next about Afghanistan.

"We went in to show we cared about our people getting killed [on 9/11]," Sherjan said, "but we can't just leave, we can't just say 'we killed bin Laden, problem soived!'"

Reported by Bryan Le