Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
We have known for months that the United States has begun direct talks with representatives of the Taliban. And as I wrote in this story, the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 2 should make it easier for the Taliban to break with al Qaeda, a fundamental requirement for including them in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan. But lest anyone should think these talks, combined with bin Laden’s death, would somehow produce an early end to the Afghan war, it is important to remember that engaging with the Taliban is only a necessary but far from sufficient condition for a political settlement.
As Thomas Ruttig writes at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, any deal between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was simply meant to open the exit door for foreign troops would not serve the interests of Afghans. ”… they need an end of the bloodshed that will also physically reopen spaces for economic and political activities, a debate about where their country is going. A deal which does not address the main causes of the conflict (namely the monopoly over power of resources concentrated in the hands of a small elite, then possibly with some additional Taleban players) will not bring peace.
”Therefore, the ‘political process’ … needs to involve a representative cross-section of Afghan society, including former anti-Taleban mujahedin, the ethnic minorities … and what usually is called civil society … They need to hammer out a much broader political compromise that will guarantee, finally, the political stabilisation of Afghanistan where everyone has to concede something but finally everyone gains.”
The Taliban led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, described by Washington as the Quetta shura Taliban (QST), are not comparable to a national liberation movement with whom a peace deal can be struck and the war ended. Even among the Pashtun community, their support is patchy; and they are regarded with deep suspicion by other groups, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, with bad memories of Taliban rule from 1996 – 2001. Already there are signs that some of the Taliban’s most bitter opponents are mobilising to scupper any peace talks - among them Amrullah Saleh, former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency.