British PM: No, we're not going to negotiate with the Taliban

Heart-ache rippled through the ‘sphere last night at news that he was thinking of making a deal, and understandably so. This morning it seems like much ado about … well, not nothing, but not quite something either.

The Prime Minister told MPs that Britain will support efforts by the Afghan government to negotiate with tribal fighters now supporting the Taliban — but only if they renounce violence and accept democracy…

Mr Brown replied: “I just repeat, our aim is to isolate and eradicate the Taliban insurgency. We will not negotiate with the leadership and we do not propose to do so.”

British officials believe that there are around 5,000 fighters allied to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the vast majority of them tribal gunmen who are paid to fight.

Only a handful of senior leaders, mostly based around the Pakistani city of Qetta, are “core Taliban,” survivors of the regime that ran Afghanistan until 2001.

He’s talking about an Anbar strategy, obviously. Just as the U.S. won’t deal with fundamentalist nutjobs like AQI but will deal with nationalist Sunni insurgents, either by buying them off or leveraging their antagonism towards foreign jihadis, it sounds like Brown wants to try to split the hired guns and warlords (like this guy, maybe) from the shari’a boys. The latter will fight forever for Koranic supremacy, the former can hopefully be lured with material things. The Afghan public is still surprisingly accommodating to the western presence, too, so there’s not the same kind of pressure there to deal with hostiles the way there is in Iraq.

Before you knock Brown, bear in mind that the Brits aren’t the only member of the coalition considering this strategy. And not just in Afghanistan, either.

Update: No wonder they’re accommodating.