On Taliban talks and driving out al Qaeda

March 23, 2011

osamaIn the debate about the possibility of reaching a peace settlement with the Taliban in return for them breaking with al Qaeda, it has never been entirely clear how that breach would be defined. While on one hand the international community would expect the Taliban’s break with al Qaeda to be public and irreversible, few expect them to turn on al Qaeda’s leaders, preferring instead for them to leave the Afghanistan and Pakistan region.

 Somewhere in there is a huge grey area that has not yet got the attention it deserves. The Century Foundation in its newly released report (pdf) calling for a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war has come up with a suggestion which at least forms the basis of debate.  Its key point — or at least the one that jumped out at me — is that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would declare the jihad over: 

“The international community will resolutely insist that an acceptable and durable political settlement must include a verifiable severing of ties with al Qaeda and guarantees that Afghanistan could never again be a base from which transnational terrorists could threaten international peace and stability.”

“A political settlement in which the Taliban agreed to be a part of a pluralistic governing structure would have far-reaching symbolic importance in the larger struggle against violent extremism and transnational terrorism. One potentially useful message of the end of the conflict would be an announcement by the Afghan insurgents, including Mullah Mohammad Omar as the head of the Taliban and its spiritual leader, that the jihad has come to a close and that the political settlement represents a definitive cessation of hostilities. This public statement could also reaffirm clearly the dedication of the Taliban to national Afghan goals and again emphasize the severing of ties with al Qaeda and any other transnational terrorist networks. It could declare that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups and will not be allowed to serve as a base for regional destabilization.”

An announcement by Mullah Omar that the Afghan jihad had come to a close would be a powerful repudiation of al Qaeda’s own global agenda and would in itself constitute a significant ideological breach. That is not to suggest it will happen — publicly the Taliban rejects talks until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan — but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

Meanwhile on the subject of talks, Pakistani daily The Express Tribune has reported that the government has opened peace talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The report follows speculation that Pakistan might be planning an expanded military operation in North Waziristan. The two are not mutually incompatible — if Pakistan wanted to succeed in talks, it would probably want to convince the TTP that it had them cornered and they had an interest in coming to the table.   In this context, it is worth noting that Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of the most respected journalists on the tribal areas, has argued that the TTP has lost the trust of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network over its execution of two former members of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency who it had kidnapped in North Waziristan.

Here is what The Express Tribune had to say about the reported talks with the TTP.  “The authorities, however, have made it clear to the TTP and others that no role of al Qaeda is to be accepted at any level in these negotiations…”

(To be continued. In my next post on this subject: If al Qaeda leaders are forced to leave the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, where do they go?)


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Al Qaeda did not enter the region with proper visa and documents. It is a loose organization where followers join with their own individual sentiments aligned. All that the Al Qaeda has to do is to exploit the blunders committed by the West. The support for fundamentalists is huge in this region. Anyone who decides to play to the tunes of the West will lose his base very quickly. If Mullah Omar agreed to officially cut off all ties with Al Qaeda to please the West, he will lose his value right away. There are many others eager to continue with Jihad and beyond. And for Taliban to cut off ties with Al Qaeda there must be a valid reason that caused some kind of friction and feud between them. They both are facing the barrel of the gun at the same time. Now why would they suddenly find a way out by sacrificing Al Qaeda? Where is the guarantee that within a year of this “settlement”, as soon as the Americans leave, Al Qaeda will not return and have a huge laugh? These guys must be made to submit by force. They do not understand treaties and agreements. They are used to violating rules and laws all through their history. Their tribal warfares spanning over generations are due to violating peace agreements between tribes. They only know victory or defeat. Negotiated settlement is tantamount to defeat of the West for them. After having spent 11 years in a war, with all the money, sophisticated military technology and clout, leaving the region with a half baked settlement is nothing but defeat. That is how it will be perceived. And this will only make these elements bolder than ever before. Read the statements made by one fundamentalist Pakistani living Germany. They will add the US to the list of mighty powers defeated. Al Qaeda will only feel encouraged to expand its campaign further. This is a big mistake the US and its allies are making. They do not seem to have learned from their past mistakes. Short sighted policies have led to the debacle one sees today. Yet another short sighted move will only make things worse. Go after them and defeat them with all your mighty weapons, strategy and technology. Or they will come and burn you in your own homelands.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Perhaps India the emerging superpower can take on afghanistan…

Posted by shoaibo | Report as abusive

The author is referring to utilizing Islamic laws of war to Put AQ on the backfoot. AQ operations do not follow the Islamic code because they kill civilians (disallowed). On the other hand they adhere to some of the protocol such as pre-warning attacks like African embassies. A strengthneded Taliban could use this strategy to retain ‘street cred’ vis-a-vis a weakened AQ.

An isolated AQ would be easier to deal with than all of Afghanistan. If AQ leadership can be destroyed, US will reach its objectives. Once this is done, US would have to avoid a repeat of 1989 and rebuild the region, promote education, infrastructure and economies of the devastated Afpak region.

This scenario as the author stated is unlikely but worth pursuing.

Pakistan should seriously get out of the militant business. It is a flawed strategy. States can’t control the goals, tactics, ideology of external jihad. Kashmir can only be won by Kashmiris not foriegn freedom fighters. They will have to fight like the vietnamese, algerians, afghans, bangladeshis etc. That is the price for freedom, it can’t be outsourced.

Posted by shoaibo | Report as abusive

America is behind the curve on Afghan policy, and ground realities are shifting. Pakistan is on the verge of pulling back. Elquaida argument has lost it’s magic. Longer the parties wait, the stronger would be the position of warlords. Then NATO would be just another warlord paying rent to play the game.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive

The Taliban and al Qaeda don’t strike me as people for whom negotiation is an option. It’s their way or the highway to hell. They will not go quietly, and it’s unbelievably naive to think that anyone would take their word in any kind of negotiation re peace or anything else. The only reason they would consider entering into peace negotiations is to say whatever it is the spineless want to hear so they can withdraw U.S. troops without losing any sleep. If the U.S. pulls out prematurely, the whole world will pay, but no one more than those left behind. In bin Laden’s own words, “The U.S. loves life; we love death. That is the difference between us.” Anyone of like mind, e.g., the Taliban, doesn’t know what Life and Peace are. There is no negotiating with that. They are evil incarnate, and they must be destroyed.

Posted by ladygoodman | Report as abusive

Jihad has transformed weapons industry executives around the world into a new crop of billionnaires. When will governments realize they’ve been played by greedy executives of private corporations? If Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar declares the jihad over, then I suspect the big players in that industry will have to put out a hit for this renegade Taliban leader.

Posted by DisgustedReader | Report as abusive

Did some one say US loves life, even though for no apparent reason the current technocrat kenyan President and his clintonians adviser went for the kill in libya with its hundreds of inacurate Tissiles to support the rebels which according to reports have AlQuaeda volunteers.What a clever game according to the lady in red the terrorist went to Afghanistan and now we are being told that AlQaeda people have mved to libya to fight the great dictator and once again the US and the UK and French Govts are prepared to arm them?No wonder Afghanistan Govt. would welcome this step.

It vis the corporate America and the Pentagon America which is ruling America, the technorat Presidents come and go. What a shame, I thought the kenyan migrant’s son would get two terms but h just messed it up. He does not have the passion of the unior, Gandhi and mandela!
This is too much to expect from a man who after election went into the service of wall street oligarchy and corporate America!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

[…] 2013. The original cause for the international involvement in Afghanistan, al Qaeda, seems to have broken its ties to the Taliban as well as to Afghanistan and will likely not intervene in any […]

Posted by Taliban Talks: Not the Solution to Afghanistan’s Problems | Kings of War | Report as abusive