Separating the Taliban from al Qaeda

February 8, 2011

strong chopperThe Afghan Taliban would be ready to break with al Qaeda in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war, and to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a base for international terrorism, according to a report by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, released by New York University.

It says that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was strained both before and after the September 11 2001 attacks, partly because of their very different ideological roots. Al Qaeda grew out of militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably in Egypt, which — when fused with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan — created its own view of global jihad. Taliban leaders grew up in rural southern Afghanistan, isolated from world events. Many were too young to play a big role in the Afghan jihad, and had no close ties to al Qaeda until after they took power in 1996.

“Many Taliban leaders of the older generation are still potential partners for a negotiated settlement. They are not implacably opposed to the U.S. or West in general but to specific actions or policies in Afghanistan. These figures now understand the position of the international community much better than they did before 2001. They are not seeking a return to the failed interactions between the Taliban and the international community of the 1990s. At present they still represent the movement,” the report concludes.

“Could the older-generation leadership be relied on to keep Afghanistan terror-free? The reaction of the insurgents depends in part on how their opponents choose to engage them. There would be support for a break with al-Qaeda within the senior leadership, but how this is addressed will determine how effective the break is to be. What is highly likely is that engagement on a political level will create opportunities that do not yet exist.”

You can see my story here while the full report (pdf) is here.

The report should help remove one of the more pernicious arguments sometimes made against the idea of engaging with the Taliban — that the movement does not want to talk and therefore there is no point in trying. The authors edited the memoirs of former Taliban ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef and have a new book due out in April on the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda. So they are better placed than many to understand the thinking of the Taliban.  And while the Taliban publicly say they will not talk until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan, the report’s conclusions also tally with those made from the Pakistan side of the border.

What is subject to debate, however, is why they would be willing to talk. The United States and Britain argue that the intensified military campaign in Afghanistan is forcing the Taliban to consider talks.  A senior British foreign office official said last month that leaders in the insurgency had been showing increased interest in reconciliation in Afghanistan.  She attributed this to increased troop strength in Afghanistan and said that, “we would see military pressure as needing to continue.”

The NYU report argues, however, that military operations designed to fragment the Taliban may be making talks harder rather than easier by creating younger, more radicalised fighters less open to a peace deal.   It says the U.S. policy of targeting mid-level commanders, along with arrests in Pakistan of senior leaders, is undercutting the old leadership and paving the way for a younger generation more open to al Qaeda. “The new and younger generation of Afghan Taliban is more susceptible to advances by foreign jihadist groups, including al Qaeda.”

“Fighting and negotiating are not mutually exclusive; these can and will happen in parallel. But the way the conflict is conducted is important. If a political settlement is indeed being sought, there is little sense in trying to destroy the organisations one wants to talk to,” it says.

The contention that the intensified military pressure of 2010 is the main driver in convincing the Taliban to talk is also somewhat open to question given that some sources argued they were willing to negotiate before  that campaign got underway.  Indeed back in 2009, Taliban statements were already  indicating evidence of a rift with al Qaeda.  Some time when the history books are written, we will have to ask why that rift was not seized upon at the time, and indeed whether a negotiated settlement could have been achieved without the intensified fighting of 2010. 

 The report does not go into much detail about what the Taliban would expect of any negotiated settlement. How, for example, would their demand that foreign troops leave Afghanistan be reconciled with a U.S. trend of building increasingly large military bases there

The report includes an intriguing suggestion that the Taliban might eventually be ready to cooperate with the United States on international terrorism. ”One such vision recently suggested in private by a senior Taliban political strategist is that Taliban forces could conduct counterterrorism operations, including joint operations together with U.S. Special Forces, against al Qaeda and possibly its affiliates along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” it says. Such an idea “signifies considerable flexibility within the senior Taliban leadership.”

The idea of a negotiated settlement under which the Taliban accepted a share of power in return for agreeing to the presence of U.S. troops to help them keep the peace in Afghanistan would be such an extraordinary reversal of the logic of the war that it has not gained much traction so far.  I’ve been asking people about that possibility for months now, and it is usually dismissed either as ridiculous or impossible to sell to the domestic constituencies of  both the United States and the Taliban.  But then again, we seem to be living through extraordinary times, as Egypt’s uprising has shown, so everything is possible.

While focusing on the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda, the report does not go into the mechanics of how the Afghan movement might break with an ally still needed as long as it is fighting in Afghanistan.  Handing al Qaeda leaders over to the Americans would be political suicide for any Islamic movment, even one which renounced violence. And simply encouraging them to leave the region raises a whole new set of questions about where they might go.  Washington would not want to see them regrouping in Yemen, neighbouring oil giant Saudi Arabia; nor for some of them to filter back to Egypt where al Qaeda has its ideological roots.  In fact, right now, it must be unusually determined to keep al Qaeda well away from Egypt and the rest of the Arab world to ensure it does not try to exploit the unrest which started in Tunisia and has sent shock waves across the Middle East.

Comments

Myra

America needs to find peace with itself. No one should try to change Pashtoons nor label them with names that leads to misunderstanding. It was hard enough for the Afghans to keep their independece despite military engagements with brits twice and Russians once. They almost worship their dignity, freedom and tribal type of democracy with a weak nominee from the tribes to sit in Kabul and maintain foreign relations. Many Kings tried to revolutionise them and they failed and lost their throne in the process.

They do not negotiate with foreigners. One has to defeat them if one can, otherwise exit from the land is the only option.

We have just found out if the egyptian people were the enemies of the west or the authoritative regimes who were telling fibs to the west and receiving military aid to suppress their own people. All the signs are that the USA is finaly going to reset its relations with the people in muslim countries. Kennedy peace corps strategy is needed in today’s world not the marines.I am sure next year we would not be discussing about the misgivings among people, all of them want dignity, freedom and democracy. in their worlds. Those who are prepared to work hard would also find employment in a democracy.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

The US messed up this region. It had a global enemy in USSR and it used Afghanistan as the battle field to decimate its rival. In the bargain it helped create the Islamic monster that has grown incredibly large. It had the opportunity to wipe it out completely in 2001. Yet it went after Iraq suddenly, allowing the monster to get breathing space. If it makes any deal and gets out of the region, this monster will grow even bigger. Ignorance has led to this end. Further ignorance will burn the rest of the world. The US owes the world big time for help creating this monster. Taliban is an outcome of that short sighted mission. The US has to destroy what it created. It has affected us Indians the most and we have been silent victims to the atrocities committed by Islamic insurgency and terrorism. And now nukes are mixed into the combination. The US has to clean out the area and help restructure it. It will take a long time. Like the poppy growing abundantly in Afghanistan, Islamic terrorism has sprouted plentiful. Negotiating with these mad men will lead to further misery for the US and its cronies. These people consider negotiated settlement as a defeat. If the US makes peace with them and leaves, they will rewrite history as the American inability to withstand their might and their final withdrawal from the region. The US has to be here for a long time until the monster it helped create is completely wiped out. Otherwise it will fall victim.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Look at the offshoots of radical Islam:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb  /08/russia-moscow-domodedovo-airport-um arov

The whole world has to unite and wipe out this cancer. We should not allow them to threaten the world and get away with it.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

I thought that the Al Qaeda and the Taliban were always separate entities. Where is the question of separating them now? The question is really whether the two will ever stop being allies.Even so, I still don’t see how that will affect events in Afghanistan.

The US took Al Qaeda out of the equation a long time ago. It claims to have severely dented its capability but destroying it as an organisation has long ceased to be an option. Most, if not all its troops in Afghanistan are employed in curbing the insurgents/Taliban. The war against the AQ is being fought through cutting of financing etc.

The only question that remains is whether the US should talk to the Taliban. It is desperately seeking an honourable way to quit. Eventually it will talk. To that end, all sorts of theories will be floated as justification for these talks. American public opinion has simply washed its hands off Afghanistan. After 10 years we have reached a stage where the US is desperately seeking a way out to justify returning the country to those whom it overthrew. The US does not have to worry about convincing domestic opinion. They switched off a long time ago.

As to whether the Taliban can become an ally, or whether it has indeed mellowed, needs the expertise of astrologers not analysts. Simply because even after all these years, the US has not even scratched the surface of understanding local sentiment and aspirations. The cultural divide proved too great a barrier to overcome.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive
 

The core Western demand is that they be allowed to keep military bases. This is not acceptable to most interested parties. So it is slug fest to the very end, Remember you heard it here first,
Afghan got better of Brits and Russians for nothing. Let you figure out how that happened.
Mr Singh, the silent victim, don’t be a wimp, there is still time to send in your army.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive
 

The US seems to be going ahead with its objectives of twisting the Taliban into submission. From that standpoint, they are not going to lower their guard towards Taliban yet:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41469366/ns/ world_news-south_and_central_asia/

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Matrixx: “Mr Singh, the silent victim, don’t be a wimp, there is still time to send in your army.”

Surely. After you brothers have lit fire to each other’s beard and self destructed like the Bamiyan statues, we will send in our military to help rebuild those fragments from the erstwhile Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

I have a suggestion for mr. Obama. Request India to deploy the sikh regiment of the indian army in Af-Pak. I did some research & found that the sikhs are the only people in history to not only have defeated the pashtoons but also sucessfully ruled over them.

Posted by black_hawk | Report as abusive
 

On a different note, things are heating up on the Raymond Davis front & it will be interesting to see what becomes of this situation. If I had to make a bet, it would be that the Pakistanis cave in & free Mr. Davis in a couple of days.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal: “If I had to make a bet, it would be that the Pakistanis cave in & free Mr. Davis in a couple of days.”

They will find a way out of this. Most probably a deal will be made with Zardari. He will help release the American. Public anger would turn against him. Then Kayani would tell him to step down and replace him with another dummy. This way Zardari will be offered a safe passage out. Public anger would be pointed at him and the military will manage to settle the situation so that all parties are happy. Zardari is expendable as far as all sections of Pakistan are concerned.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Mystery Over Detained American Angers Pakistan

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/world/ asia/09pakistan.html?hp

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

Diplomatic immunity is also negotiable. The Pakistanis should ask the US to waive Davis’s diplomatic immunity the way the US asked Georgia to waive their deputy ambassador’s (no less!) immunity in 1997 in relation to a teenager’s death in a car accident. That wasn’t even a deliberate killing like this, and the US didn’t spare as senior a person as the Georgian deputy ambassador. A dubious security contractor caught in dubious circumstances doesn’t deserve such protection. It can’t be one rule for the US and another rule for everyone else. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis don’t seem to have much bargaining power in this situation.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

A good analysis of l’affaire Davis:

http://bit.ly/fW5ZNC

I agree 100%.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

I am totally with Pakistan on this. Will they hold out against the enormousf pressure almost amounting to blackmail ? Personally I doubt it, but the consequences in Pakistan itself will be catastrophic. Have heard that Imran Khan has threatened to take to the streets in case he is released under the present circumstances.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive
 

Heh, the US is on a really sticky wicket when even Indians start supporting Pakistan ;-) . They’ve been urging talks and greater cooperation between our two countries, but I don’t think they expected it to come about at their expense…

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

In the past when Pakistan was the closest concubine of the US, if this incident had happened, Pakistan would have brushed it aside as a self defense issue for the American, portrayed the people shot dead as Russian agents and closed the case. ISI would have used its media wing to paint all kinds of stories about the two guys and would have massaged the American’s feet. Today things have changed. Pakistan and America find each other on opposite sides of the border. Any chance to rub against each other is being exploited. Pretty soon we will be seeing news of a Pakistani national being caught in the US for some activity and everything publicized as though the world was about to end. I don’t think there is any substance in the accusations and counter accusations. This pure game that Pakistan and the US are playing at each other. Pakistan is very hurt that the US has shifted camps. If there was any sensible American in Pakistan, he would take the first flight home. And likewise, Pakistanis in the US might be under the radar of the FBI. They will be working on building a case. This is the next phase of a war that is emerging.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

As a neutral observer, I would also be inclined to side with Pakistan on this (Raymond James) issue. However, from an American perspective, it would be foolish to expect Pakistan’s judiciary to judge this case solely on it’s merit & without being influenced by external forces. After all, we’re talking about a country where lawyers shower rose petals on a governer’s assasin & where death sentences are handed out to minorities on the flimsiest grounds of “blasphemy”. Under such circumstances, if Davis is thrown to the wolves, there’s a very good chance that he’ll either be killed in custody or if he survives through the trial, he’ll get an unfair decision. I don’t think the US would have demanded diplomatic immunity for this guy, if this would have happened in any country which has a truly independent & credible judiciary.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Davis may also face espionage charge

http://tribune.com.pk/story/116246/davis -may-also-face-espionage-charge/

——————————————————–
Spy Game: US, Pak tangle gets messy, bloody

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world  /us/Spy-Game-US-Pak-tangle-gets-messy-b loody/articleshow/7377590.cms
———————————————————

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Act ivities_Division

Special Activities Division, of CIA’s National Clandestine Service

Today four NATO tankers destroyed which were carrying feul to Afghanistan. Drone attacks surge has stopped. A Times of India report stated the suspect was being ‘tailed’ by the two men described as ISI operatives?. This whole thing is very murky and definitely something is not right. The state dept spokeman always states “we can’t comment on that, we can’t comment on this” etc.
Lets see if ISI is sleeping or awake.
Ironically, both US and Pakistan are in a deadly embrace, both can’t live without each other. Both watch over each other’s shoulder, wary and suspicious with a lack of trust. This whole affair will test the ‘strategic relationship’ between Pakistan and US. Either a total breakdown and looming diplomatic crisis, or otherwise coming out of it much more trusting each other and working together.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan’s aim would be stay put and keep the American tangled in a messy and slow local judicial process. Any time a question is raised, they will quote the nature of the process that takes time and other priorities that go with it. Sooner or later there will be other crises erupting and this issue will go to the back burner. The goal is to use this American for a leverage at a latter time. Now that he fell into Pakistan’s hands, he will be used to milk the Americans more.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

KP,

I don’t think that the Pakistanis will be allowed to drag their feet in this matter. The Obama administration seems to be adopting a hard line towards this issue. Hillary refused to meet with Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi in Munich this week as a sign of resentment & instead decided to meet with Kayani & give him an earful. Officials are also openly threatening to cut the aid to Pakistan if Davis is not realeased soon. It’ll be interesting to see how this situation develops but I think Davis will be released in a few days.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Americans cannot have one rule for themselves and another for others. They have follow international norms and take the case to the UN court in Geneva. That’s what they have to show the world.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal1 said:

> I don’t think the US would have demanded diplomatic immunity for this guy, if this would have happened in any country which has a truly independent & credible judiciary.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think Davis was a spy and the US doesn’t want him to be interrogated by the Pakistanis. That’s why they’re desperate to get him out, credible judiciary or not.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@”Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think Davis was a spy and the US doesn’t want him to be interrogated by the Pakistanis. That’s why they’re desperate to get him out, credible judiciary or not.” Posted by prasadgc

No, you’re probably correct. The guy’s role in Pakistan has seemed suspicious from the begining. Spy or no spy, I’m all for justice in this matter but I just don’t think that Pakistan is the right place for it. I have no problems if he’s tried in an international or a US court.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

@Umair/Ganesh
“He is being held at a police training center in Lahore under a kind of house arrest, where he is isolated from Pakistani prisoners, according to a senior Pakistani police investigator. He has refused to answer any questions, or talk about his family, the investigator said.”
***Who cooks food for this guy and what is given to eat? Hope ( :-; ) he does not die of food poisoning!

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Mortal:” I don’t think the US would have demanded diplomatic immunity for this guy, if this would have happened in any country which has a truly independent & credible judiciary.”
” I’m all for justice in this matter but I just don’t think that Pakistan is the right place for it. I have no problems if he’s tried in an international or a US court.”

-The lawyers movement ousted former President Musharraf, a dictator and Army general could not survive a tussle with independent minded chief Justice of Supreme court. Such is the independence of judiciary in Pakistan and the democracy no matter how flawed it is. Reports say a petition was filed and resultantly a court in Lahore ordered to enter the name of the suspect in ECL-Exit control List and barred him from leaving the country. The matter is subjudice and law will take its course. Same will be the case of Qadri the assassin of Punjab governor, even if he does not get death penalty, the Punjab governors assassin might well rot in jail for the rest of his life.
Shortly, there must be faith in the judiciary in Pakistan in its impartiality and independence. It is all about the rule of law.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive
 

Umair,

Musharraf was ousted because he lost his power, support of the US & the support of a vast majority of Pakistanis. If he was still powerful, he could have had the chief justice hanged (just like Zia had Bhutto hanged). If you have faith in your judiciary, good for you (although I don’t know if you are being sincere or if your “defend Pakistan” reflexes have kicked in) but there’s hardly anyone in the international community, who have any faith in the integrity of your judiciary. I have spoken to a few Pakistanis here about your judiciary & none of them have any faith in it either. Lets not play naive here. If Raymond Davis goes to trial in Pakistan, his fate won’t be decided by a judge or jury but rather by the generals in Rawal pindi. You know that as well as I do.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Mortal1 said:

> As a neutral observer, I would also be inclined to side with Pakistan on this (Raymond James) issue.

This guy is Raymond Davis, though I don’t blame you for confusing him with James Bond ;-) . And Mr. Ten Percent is playing Dr. No ;-) ;-) .

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

@”This guy is Raymond Davis, though I don’t blame you for confusing him with James Bond And Mr. Ten Percent is playing Dr. No.” Posted by prasadgc

Yeah, sure looks like something out of a James Bond movie. Although, if I were doing the casting, Kayani would get the meaty Dr. No role while Mr. 10% would be relegated to the role of the 3rd henchman :)

(Actually Raymond James is an investment firm in the US, with whom I frequently deal with & hence the reflex error.)

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

@”Same will be the case of Qadri the assassin of Punjab governor, even if he does not get death penalty, the Punjab governors assassin might well rot in jail for the rest of his life.” Posted by Umairpk

Yeah, but first they’ll have to find someone to prosecute him. Looks like no lawyer is willing to prosecute Mr. Qadri.

http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/05/no-prosec utor-at-taseer-murder-case-hearing.html

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

‘Valentine gifts for Pakistan assassin’ – Dawn

http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/14/valentine -gifts-for-pakistan-assassin.html

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Wonderful article!

Yes I completely agree with every single word it says.

Like others I am also totally with Pakistan on this.

Posted by muhammadaqadeer | Report as abusive
 

@black-hawh
You are a great friend that obama and the sikh community needs. Have the todays sikhs got anything left of their past chivalry especially after their treatment at the hands of Indira Gandhi? Are you also not aware that the last sikh ruler of a state abondoned his throne and left merely listening to the news that the Pashoons are on the move towards his state. Have you also not noticed that KP Singh has been consantly pleading for the USA to finish the job before they leave the Pashtoon land.Mr Obama would be better of if he could muster some kenyans from his fatherland.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan judiciary could follow the american legal route for Mr Qadri, the assasin of Mr Taseer, and give him sixty eight years prison terms on charges, such as illegal use of arm, unnessary waste of bullets, negligence in duty to prvide security, premeditated plan with other securty guards who stood passive etc etc.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@”Are you also not aware that the last sikh ruler of a state abondoned his throne and left merely listening to the news that the Pashoons are on the move towards his state.” Posted by pakistan

Your idiocracy & ignorance has already been proven beyond any doubt, so you can stop advocating that cause. I assume that the “last sikh ruler” you’re talking about is Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. FYI, he was hindu & not sikh.

@”Pakistan judiciary could follow the american legal route for Mr Qadri, the assasin of Mr Taseer, and give him sixty eight years prison terms on charges, such as illegal use of arm, unnessary waste of bullets, negligence in duty to prvide security, premeditated plan with other securty guards who stood passive etc etc.”

What a great analogy! After all, like Qadri, Raymond Davis also killed in the name of Muhammad & the 2 guys he killed were commiting blasphemy by protecting the Pakistani minorities. You’re such a moron!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

correction: “What a great analogy! After all, like Qadri, Raymond Davis also killed in the name of Muhammad & the 2 guys he killed were commiting blasphemy by protecting the Pakistani minorities. You’re such a moron!”

I take back this response. I misread your comment, my bad!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

I thought that the Guru Nanak was also a hindu! He created the sikh sect on the basis of belief in God and not worshipping human made statues! The decision for sikhs to opt for hindus and not muslims was a serious misjudgement on the part of sikh leaders. Today the sikhs have lost even the dignity and become the jews of the east.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

PS
Sikhs are no longer a separate Nation! So do not give me your crap about ignorance. For me you are a zombie. KP soul is still healthy and though he is also a pladiat and most of the time used to blowing in the air, he is capable or his soul s to wander at night while his body is asleep, to see things whch are going to occur in the next years tocome. I am able to detect when he utters his forecasts. His recommendations are a futile attempt to thwart the events to come. You are nthng mre han a hollowgram, empty, rude and deprived of dignity. No hard feelings, for you kashmiris from Mirpur are not kashmiris.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

“For me you are a zombie”

Thank you! Since you have used the same term for some really smart & credible individuals, I consider that as a compliment.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

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