Letter to Obama calling for negotiations

Unless you live under a rock, you'll know that the idea of 'objectivity' has been in crisis in journalism over the last decade (and gee, in academia in general for the entire twentieth century.) Nevertheless, I subscribe to a certain 'detachment' as a journalist both for pragmatic and more rarefied reasons. Overly identifying ourselves with one particular group, particularly in situations of intense conflict, means that we risk losing access to other parties. And, epistemologically speaking, I think that there is a certain cognitive advantage that comes from denying oneself the comfort of strongly held 'beliefs' about what ought to be (others might call this a sort of moral cowardice.)

These notions often come into conflict with one's position as an agent out there in the world. Specifically, my deepening engagement with Afghanistan as both an intellectual subject and a community of human beings means that I've felt it necessary to take somewhat of a stand. My friend Alex Strick van Linschoten, along with Gilles Dorronsoro (an eminent scholar with whom I have an amiable acquaintance), has drawn up an open letter to President Obama that encapsulates a number of sentiments prevalent within, though not restricted to, the community of Afghanistan experts, scholars, and journalists (of whom I hesitate to call myself even a junior member.) The most important of these is that there needs to be a genuine effort on the part of the United States towards opening up a process of peace negotiations that will bring warring parties to the table. This took nearly ten years to produce a formal accord in the case of the Communist coup and Soviet occupation (and ended in failure), so the idea is that we'd better get started soon. Among the most significant of Wikileaks revelations is that the US has been extremely misleading about its role vis a vis peace negotiations, privately undermining what it has publicly supported.

You can read the text of the letter here. The original list of signatories continues to grow, and includes names like Ahmed Rashid, Robert Crews, Antonio Giustozzi, Nir Rosen, David Edwards, Christine Fair, Nick Miszhak and many more individuals whose work and opinions I highly respect. Alex has compiled a list of reactions on his blog here.