ARIF AYUB In the past few weeks there have been a plethora of conferences on Afghanistan starting with Islamabad, Dubai, Istanbul and finally London. This flurry of activity was bas-ically aimed at providing international support for the new US policy on Afghanistan. The change vindicates Pakistans position taken even before the war started, when President Musharraf told President Bush that the 'good Taliban needed to be brought aboard any new political dispensation in order to maintain a balanced ethnic composition in the new government. The bad Taliban were defined as those who were unw-illing to break with Al-Qaeda. The old British definition of a good Afghan still remains a classic; as someone who shoots at you only during the night. Good and bad being relative terms it was obvious there would be some disagreement over this analysis. However the US in its hubris and in the typical wild west syndrome decided that the only good Taliban were dead Taliban. This response was also an indication of how casually the US treats the views of Pakistan. Later after doing exactly the opposite of the policies sug-gested by Pakistan, the US blamed Pakistan as the scapegoat for the failure of these policies. Now after nine years of fruitless efforts the US has realised its war aims were too ambitious and it needs some sort of political settlement with the reconcilable Taliban. While this is a good change in policy the implementation of this policy is not going to be as easy as it sounds. Firstly, the Taliban being an ideological movement are not given to rational or realistic thinking and it would be difficult to bring some degree of moderation or pragmatism in their policies, particularly when the US troop withdrawal timetable is being seen by the-m as a sign of victory. According to US intelligence as quo-ted by CNN, security incidents have reached 500 a week in the second half of 2009, and 300 a week in the slow winter mon-ths, while there are shadow Taliban governors in 33 out of 35 provinces. The recent attacks on Kabul and Lashk-argah are also an indication of the deteriorating security situation. Secondly, the identification of moderate Taliban who have now been delisted is again an example of too little too late. Delisting only one out of 144 Taliban by the UN Sanctions Committee is not really a use-ful bargaining counter, particularly when the people delisted were never part of the extremist cabal, which led Afghanistan into the present morass. For example, the former Tali-ban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, was one of the nicest persons in the Taliban hierarchy and was candid enough to admit to me that his views were not decisive in the decision making of the Kandahar shura. I had once asked him why he spent so much time in Kandahar and he frankly replied that he preferred being with his family and friends since I was the only Ambassador in Kabul with a one-point agenda (removal of terrorists) about which he could not do anything. A number of Foreign Ministers suffer from this dilemma of ineffectiveness but few have the candour to admit it. The arrest of moderate and decent Taliban like Mullah Wakil and Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef (Ambassador to Pakistan) should never have happened and showed an injustice and lack of understanding of the Taliban movement. One only has to hope that the change in direction has not come too late. So far the efforts by Saudi Arabia have not been encouraging as the Taliban are still insisting on a prior withdrawal of US troops. The third problem is the link with Al Qaeda. The failure to break this link is what precipitated the war in the first place and it is still unclear whether the Taliban extremist leaders have learnt their lesson after nine years in the wilderness. The main issue is that extremists like Mullah Omar, Haqqani and Abdul Haq (s/o Younis Khalis) have a popular following in eastern Afghanistan and there could be no peace in the region unless they are brought into the fold of political negotiations. The British and President Karzais perception that five years would be required for this process is a realistic estimate of how difficult the problem is going to be to resolve. In this context Gen McCh-rystals recent interview with the Financial Times is striking as it is the first time a senior US military official when asked about Taliban participation in any future government said that, 'Anybody who dedicates themselves to the future and not the present might participate in government. Another major focus of the London conference was the $500 million fund for buying out low-level Taliban fighters as part of the reintegration strategy. The problem in Afghanistan however is that while the Afghans are not averse to accepting mo-ney from anyone the results are always temporary and last as long as the money lasts. Moreover, money is not always the decisive factor and the limitations of this policy have been shown in the ineffectiveness of the large rewards for Osama and Umar. Ideology still plays a role despite the Afghan reputation for avariciousness. The recent article in the New York Times on the US buying the support of the Shinwari tribe has to be seen in this context. The Peshawar - Kabul route is the most profitable route in Afghanistan and the Taliban take their share of the largesse. The bravado by the Shinwaris was more for the US media rather than reflecting the reality on the ground. The Taliban are in fact the biggest supporters of traders since a considerable part of their revenues come from this source. Moreover, the US troops are seen in the Pashtun areas as an army of occupation and there is no doubt where the tribes loyalties lie once the money finishes. While the conferences have put in place a good change in policy it would be a difficult task to reconcile the position still being maintained by the Taliban calling for a complete withdrawal of troops and the US demand that the Taliban stop their attacks. The writer is a former ambassador.