According 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.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
The 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.
The New York Times has an intriguing story about the sourcing for a report that did the rounds last week saying that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) rushed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar to Karachi last week after he suffered a heart attack. (h/t Five Rupees)
Not too long ago, you could have predicted relatively easily how regional rivalries would play out in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia would line up alongside Pakistan while Iran and India would coordinate their policies to curb the influence of their main regional rivals.
U.S. pressure on Pakistan has always led to deep resentment within the Pakistan Army, which has taken heavy casualties of its own fighting Pakistani Taliban militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan. But there are signs that this resentment is now spiralling in dangerously unpredictable ways.
A 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.
Pakistan is increasingly talking up the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan which would force al Qaeda to leave the region. And while there is little sign yet Washington is ready to hold serious negotiations with Afghan insurgents, analysts detect a new tone in Pakistani comments about driving Osama bin Laden’s organization out of its haven on the Pakistan border.
from Afghan Journal:
At about the time WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, including one related to a secret attempt to remove enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor, a top Pakistani military official held a briefing for journalists that focused on U.S.-Pakistan ties.
The question of whether the links between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda can be broken has been discussed at length over the past year or so, and will be a major factor in any eventual peace settlement with insurgents in Afghanistan.