Academics, experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks

December 11, 2010

arghandabA group of academics, journalists and NGO workers have published an open letter to President Barack Obama appealing to him to support direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership.

The letter argues that the situation on the ground on Afghanistan is much worse than a year ago. “With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution,” it says.

“Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think — a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with Al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more — are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system.”

“The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year.”

“This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. ”

The United States, which is due to release a review of strategy in Afghanistan next week, has so far shown little inclination to engage in serious negotiations with the Taliban leadership, although it has accepted that ultimately there will have to a political solution to a war that cannot be won militarily.  There is also little sign it is about to change its stance of ramping up military operations — Defense Secretary Robert Gates just returned from a trip to Afghanistan where he said the U.S. strategy was working.

The letter, however, is still worth reading and particular scrolling through the list of names of those who signed up to it.  If nothing else, it serves as a useful marker from regional experts that they believe the Taliban are willing to negotiate.

Among the signatories are Antonio Giustozzi, author of Decoding the New Taliban, Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos,  Gilles Dorronsoro,  at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  Kandahar-based writers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn who co-edited the memoirs of former Taliban ambassador  to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, along with many others.

10 comments

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@Myra
A good article at the critical juncture!
let me restate the basics,

. The Pashtoons or those labelled as Talibans do not negotiate with foreigners.Period!!!

. Their minimum demand would always be that foreigners leave their land!! For the injured they would demand reparations. And those families who suffered casualties from the drone attacks and are now gathered in front of the US Embassy in Islamabad, would demand adequate compensation.

The Pashtoons should never be trusted if they are engaged in negotiations on the above.

. The less the americans engage with Pashtoons direct the better it would be for the Americans. Indirect talks through mediators could always evolve into a win win results for the Pashtoon Talibans and the Americans.

Rex Minor

PS 2011 is unlikely to be a good year for the USA administration.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

The next time the US wages a big war, they need to know world history first. They are so full of ignorance that they have no idea what is out there outside the borders of Idaho. Ahmed Rashid in his book Descent into Chaos says that GW Bush had no idea who the Taliban were at the beginning. He mistook that name to be that of a high school cheer leading squad in Texas. Such leaders get to make global decisions. When they went into Iraq, they assumed that the Iraqis would come running to them with flowers for getting rid of Saddam. What they experienced was suicide attacks and they had no idea why that happened.

They under-estimated Afghanistan. They thought everyone was on their side, since they helped drive the Soviets out.

Americans and Westerners should realize the protocols in these regions. They have several layers of enemies. The first layer of enemies are the various tribes and ethnic groups. In peace time, they fight each other. That is normal part of their daily lives. The second layer is the clash between two major Muslim groups – Sunnis and Shias. When this second layer of confrontation is encountered, tribal and ethnic animosities are set aside temporarily. Then there is the third layer – confrontation with other people of the book: Jews and Christians. When encountering the third layer, all tribal, ethnic, Shia/Sunni differences are set aside and they go after the other people of the book. Then there is the fourth layer: Those who do not belong to the holy book circle – Communists, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and all the others. They have no qualms about quashing this group of people. They are like outcasts to them.

When Israeli state was being formed, Arabs courted the Nazis for support. Jews were the enemies at that time.

When fighting the Iranians, Iraq/Saudi Sunni groups united and took all the help they could from the US.

When fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, Shia/Sunni/ethnic/tribal groups united and used the help of the US.

When fighting the Taliban, the Northern alliance took the help of the Americans, India etc.

The core basis of unity is driven by the psyche of “others” with the others being different under various circumstances. Any overlap in this layered structure will cause chaos and drag. The US is experiencing it now. The way to approach any war in this region, including the Middle East, is to keep in mind the layered shells of enemies in tact and working from within that structure. They are very sensitive to their own enemies.

If I were to strategize a war against Bin Laden, this is what I would have done:

1. I would have bombed Afghanistan and drove the Taliban out.
2. I would have brought in the Northern Alliance to power. Now this makes the layered enmity structure stay in tact. It would have become a Pashtun versus non-Pashtun engagement.
3. I would have pressure Pakistan into submission and hit the Taliban from behind as they try to engage the Northern alliance.

There would have been no need to park NATO troops inside Afghanistan and be looked at as foreign invaders. I would have let the NA do the job, while giving them hi tech training and weapons. In ten years time, a lot of things would have happened. NA would have gone to war with Pakistan while intruding into their territory chasing their enemy tribes. I would have put enough pressure on Pakistan not to retaliate against their Islamic brothers. I would have given enough incentives to keep Pakistan quiet.

By now the NA and the Pashtuns would have split up into two nations. It would have been a natural progression. They have been fighting each other for centuries. I’d let them balance each other out. All I would have done is to keep Pakistan’s hands tied with carrot and stick policy. Over ten years, Taliban would be traveling on donkeys begging for mercy. By now I would have arranged a peace treaty that has two nations – one for Pashtuns and one for NA. There would have been no suicide attacks in Europe and elsewhere. Bin Laden would have been finished off in the war between the Islamic brothers.

This is the only way to contain wars. By directly engaging itself in the war, the US has made an unnecessary enemy out of itself and has united all the ethnic/tribal/Shia/Sunni layers and made Bin Laden an icon of inspiration for young Muslims who are now trying to blow themselves up in many parts of the world.

More than hi tech weapons, to engage in war in these regions, one needs to understand the history, the layers of enmity and know how to exploit them. That is the only way to contain these people.

Now making deals with the Taliban and getting out will be declared as the defeat of the West. These people do not understand peace treaties. They know only victory or defeat. So any peace move is considered as defeat of the weak hearted. And victory does not let these people go back to their old lives. They are very emotional in nature. They will try to flex their muscles more and taunt those who they consider as losers in conflicts. Look at how Pakistanis are viewing Indians. Any diplomatic move is considered as emanating from weakness.

So in conclusion, making a deal with the Taliban and getting out by 2011 or 2014 will be victory for Bin Laden and the Taliban. They will rewrite their history in those terms. This means the US and other Western nations will face more Islamic onslaughts which will be bold and brazen. This is something the Western people have not encountered. But they will learn. The unfortunate part is that European cultures are volatile as well. When they get hurt, all principles fly off in the air. And they will retaliate big time.

So another crusade will emerge out of all this. The US is going to pay a big price for its ignorance.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Excuse me for the digression but here’s some ridiculous news that I came across:

KARACHI: A doctor has been arrested for insulting the Prophet Mohammed in Pakistan, police said on Sunday, in a second high profile case throwing the spotlight on the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy laws.

Naushad Valiyani was detained on Friday following a complaint by a medical representative who visited the doctor in the city of Hyderabad. “The arrest was made after the complainant told the police that Valiyani threw his business card, which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan, in a dustbin during a visit to his clinic,” regional police chief Mushtaq Shah told AFP.
“Faizan accused Valiyani of committing blasphemy and asked police to register a case against the doctor.”

Shah said the issue had been resolved after Valiyani, a member of Pakistan’s Ismaili community, apologised but local religious leaders intervened and pressed for action. “Valiyani had assured Faizan that he did not mean to insult the Prophet Mohammed by throwing the visiting card in the dustbin,” Shah said, adding that the police had registered a case under the Blasphemy Act.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Mortal: “Excuse me for the digression but here’s some ridiculous news that I came across”

Every country has quirky incidents of this kind. Pakistan is not alone. Usually people use these laws to settle their scores on others. If Pakistan was a true secular nation, an incident like this can be a blot in its image. Pakistan is not. It is a declared Islamic state. It has blasphemy law in effect. Therefore technically one can get into trouble. That is unfortunate.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

To the law 101 expert,

Here is something for you to chew on. The Pentagon is going to prosecute Assange on a 1917 US law. Go read it for yourself:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40633129/ns/ us_news-wikileaks_in_security/

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

KP,

What’s shocking to me, is the pretext under which this doctor is being imprisoned under blasphemy law. This is even outrageous by Pakistani standards. Apparently, anyone can be put in jail for just discarding a peice of paper with the word “muhammad” written on it. And since muhammad is a pretty common muslim name, that would implicate anyone who has ever dumped a newspaper, journal, magazine, book etc which contained that word. It just doesen’t make any sense to me!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Mortal,

These are sign of the times. Pakistan has become ultra sensitive. Anything can lead to major eruption of violence and injustice there due to the stressful conditions there. It is unfortunate.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

History is repeating itself, in the 1980s a Mujahideen government in exile in Peshawar was conducting the war against the Soviets inside Afghanistan. Today a Taliban government in exile in Quetta is waging the war against the Americans inside Afghanistan. In both cases, Pakistan’s ISI helped the Afghan resistence.

Gen. Boris Gromov was the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan, crossing on foot the Friendship Bridge spanning the Amu-Daria river on 15 February 1989, the day the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan was completed. He greeted his son who welcomed him with flowers in his hands from Uzbekistan side of the border making sure no one was left behind.

I think the war in Afghanistan is over. But this time Gen. David Petraus will leave on the last helicopter from the compound of the US embassy in Kabul only the year remains to be undecided it might be 2011 or 2014.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk: “History is repeating itself, in the 1980s a Mujahideen government in exile in Peshawar was conducting the war against the Soviets inside Afghanistan. Today a Taliban government in exile in Quetta is waging the war against the Americans inside Afghanistan. In both cases, Pakistan’s ISI helped the Afghan resistence.”

The only thing I see is Distorted history repeating itself. Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with a deliberate intent. Afghanistan was a sovereign nation at that time and there were no genuine reasons for the invasion to happen.

US invasion of Afghanistan is not the same as Soviet invasion. The US had “abandoned” the region, as per Pakistani gripe. It was Al Qaeda that went after the US by using the ground in Afghanistan. The US still would not have invaded if the Taliban regime had handed over Al Qaeda leaders to the US. They refused to co-operate and the US had a genuine reason to attack Afghanistan.

The mistake US made was to abandon the pursuit in the middle and go after Saddam Hussein. If they had not done that, they could have made a lot more gains. They did not have the wisdom. And Pakistan has hidden the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives and has waited the Americans out. Taliban are barbarians. The Mujahideen who fought the Soviets were genuine freedom fighters. Their nation was unnecessarily invaded and they fought the Soviets to liberate their country. The Taliban are no freedom fighters. They are all Pashtuns, whereas the Mujahideen had a mix of all ethnic groups from Afghanistan in addition to other Muslims from around the world. Now Taliban faces the other ethnic groups in conflict. So the situation is not exactly the same.

The US is not flattening innocent civilians with its tanks like the Soviets did. The US is not trying to wipe out Islam and replace it with another religion. The USSR wanted to bring in Communism. The US has tried to set up a civilian government, train the Afghan police and military and wants to leave after bringing some kind of stability to Afghanistan. They should have done that in 1989. But that is all in the past.

Let us not glorify the barbarians just because they are sitting on your side of the fence. Your country took copious amounts of money, weapons, training and help from the Americans before. Just like you have the right to defend your country, they have theirs. Criminal groups cannot be equated with freedom fighters.

This war started more than thirty years ago. All we are seeing is the battles in between. It is going to get worse and not better. I won’t be surprised if Af-Pak triggers World War III.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

[...] experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks” – Myra MacDonald writes a piece for Reuters about the letter, quoting [...]

@Myra
Now you have the comments from some experts from India on this blog. How come they were not included in the groups of academics and experts? Any idea how you can transfer some of the radicals views on to the neighbouring Indai blog. It is getting rather crowded with non experts and non academics.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive