Saturday, September 29, 2007


In the wake of the recent suicide bombing in Kabul which killed some 28 Afghan troops and two civilians (link), Afghanistan's President Karzai reportedly remarked that he would be willing to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and would also be open to allowing the Taliban into government, in exchange for peace.

Taliban spokespersons, in response, have rejected the overture, insisting that negotiations can only start after foreign military forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan (see NYT here).

Reacting to this development, Canada's Defense minister Pete Mackay, sounding like any random member of the Bush administration, insists that the Taliban must accept the presence of NATO for the foreseeable future (see Globe and Mail report here). The Globe and Mail, it seems, didn't ask Mr MacKay why he felt it was his decision.

Regarding the proceedure for negotiations with the Taliban, the Ottawa Citizen recently ran an informative overview the context for negotiations. The piece (here), by U of Ottawa prof Peter Jones, is excerpted below:

[A]n acceptable peace in Afghanistan may well be a situation where the country is not used as a base for trans-national terrorist groups (as it was for al-Qaeda), and where the drug trade is under some semblance of control.

...Any serious negotiation would likely be a three-way affair among the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the international community. The latter is potentially vast and includes NATO, the U.S., Russia, China, the UN, Iran and Pakistan, to name a few. It is unlikely all of these would actually be "at the table." Rather, one can imagine a complex diplomatic process. Most of it would take place behind the scenes.

... Sometimes the initial stages of such a process take place through a phenomenon known as "Track Two diplomacy." Players who do not recognize each other meet, usually quietly, in a non-official way to explore whether serious talks are possible.

... Recently, the Taliban advanced a set of conditions for peace. These included the removal of all foreign forces and the creation of a state based on a very strict interpretation of Islamic law... But we do not know whether they were put forward as the first step in a long process of trading concessions towards a compromise, or as a "take it or leave it" proposition. The Taliban themselves may not know; they may have been testing the waters...

Indeed, other questions are raised by this list of conditions: Are the Taliban a sufficiently unified group to be able to make strategic decisions and compromises over time, or are they, as many are coming to appreciate, more a group of factions that may lack the discipline to negotiate over time and stick to decisions? Does the fact that there are differences between factions of the Taliban mean that getting a meaningful agreement will be impossible...

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