Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

On U.S.-Taliban talks, look at 2014 and work back

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arghandab3According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war.  He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.

“Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.”

I had heard the same thing some time ago — from an official source who follows Afghanistan closely – that the Americans and the Taliban were holding face-to-face talks for the first time.  He said the talks were not yet ”at a decision-making level” but involved Taliban representatives who would report back to the leadership.  There has been no official confirmation.

And given that the idea of holding talks with the Taliban has been on the diplomatic agenda for a year, you would probably expect to see the various parties involved in the conflict sounding each other out – though diplomats say that in the first half of last year it was hard to get negotiations moving without the direct involvement of the Americans.  By the second half of 2010 the Americans had given greater endorsement to talks, leading — according to the source I spoke to — to direct talks beginning towards the end of the year.  

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

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arghandab3In Obama’s Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

“He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns…”

from Afghan Journal:

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track

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USA/

(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York's Times Square.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

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(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

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