Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Taliban reconciliation anyone?

May 8, 2010

TIMESSQUARE/PACKAGEFaisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born American charged with trying to bomb New York, may have failed in his objective, but one unintended consequence of his act may well be that a plan to reach out to insurgents in Afghanistan has been blown out of the water.

To be sure the Afghan Taliban which is entirely focused on fighting foreign forces in their homeland has nothing to do with the failed Times Square bombing. It is the Pakistani Taliban that claimed responsibility initially and the suspected bomber’s links to the group and another Pakistan-based group fighting Indian forces in Kashmir are being investigated.

But given the alarm that the would-be bomber has caused in the United States, it is hard to see how Afghan President Hamid Karzai can sell his proposal to seek reconciliation with insurgent leaders when he visits Washington next week on what is already looking like a difficult trip.

The space for such a move was always limited but it has shrunk further since last Saturday’s failed bombing. The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are two heads of the monster, writes Jonathan Chait in The New Republic taking issue with the New York Times’s characterisation of the Pakistani Taliban as different from the Taliban  groups that the United States is fighting in Afghanistan.

Chait cites the New York Times’ own reporter David Rohde’s experience while in captivity of the Taliban for seven months to argue that the  militant groups which are gathered in an arc of western Pakistan stretching from the Quetta shura in the south to Waziristan in the north are aiding and abetting each other.

Rhode was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008 and found himself in North Waziristan just over the border in Pakistan which he later described as a mini-Taliban state.

“Over the next several days, it became clear to me that our Afghan Taliban abductors had not sold us to the Pakistani Taliban. Instead the two groups were working seamlessly together. When we departed from the area six weeks later for unknown reasons, the coordination between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban was equally flawless. Throughout our captivity, Afghan and Pakistani militants spoke in one voice of their desire to topple the American-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and halt what they saw as the oppression of Muslims worldwide.”

Security analyst Peter Bergen  last October  pointed out that the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are “quite a bit more interwoven than is commonly thought,” reflecting the way the security of each country depends on the other.

Some people argue, though, that you have to be a bit more nuanced when dealing with the different groups operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre. The Afghan Taliban is fighting foreign occupation of Afghanistan and has made no attempt to carry its fight elsewhere.

It is therefore “salvageable” unlike al Qaeda or the Pakistan Taliban which has declared war on the Pakistani state and by extension the United States which is backing Islamabad militarily.

“So while the two groups may now share a common enemy – they may not necessarily share a common set of aspirations or political interests,” says Michael Cohen in Democracy Arsenal.

There is a tendency to see all terrorist groups and “enemies of the United States” as one and the same or fundamentally irrational in nature and this was especially so in the Bush years, he says.

The question now is whether the would-be Times Square bomber has tipped America back into taking those impulsive positions best typified by “you are either with us or against us.”

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see