Monday, September 29, 2008

Burke reveals secret negotiations

The experienced and knowledgeable correspondent Jason Burke breaks the story of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The talks, sponsored by Britain and the Saudis, are currently stalled, Burke says:

Revealed: secret Taliban peace bid
Jason Burke

KABUL, Sept 28 - The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging 'peace process' sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer can reveal.

The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hardline Islamist movement travelling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals. Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks - despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.

Sources in Afghanistan confirmed the controversial talks, though they said that in recent weeks they had 'lost momentum'. According to Afghan government officials in Kabul, the intensity of the fighting this summer has been one factor. Another is the inconsistency of the Taliban's demands...

[T]he Saudi initiative is the first attempt to talk to the Taliban leadership council based in or around the south-west Pakistan city of Quetta, known as the 'Quetta Shura'.

The talks started in the summer and have been brokered by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Afghan government...

The Taliban are understood to have submitted a list of 11 conditions for ending hostilities, which include demands to be allowed to run key ministries and a programmed withdrawal of western troops.

In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's national security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, has been in charge of the negotiations. It is understood that Karzai has yet to make a formal response to the demands, leading to frustration among some western officials.

The Observer has also learnt of a separate exchange of letters in the summer between Karzai and the Taliban ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The dialogue proved fruitless... (link)
In an accompanying article, Burke relates that Karzai's inaction is another contributing factor to the current lack of progress:
The backing given by the West to these talks is a measure of how badly things have gone wrong in Afghanistan, and how far Western governments are prepared to go to stabilise a deteriorating situation which is costing more in men, money and political capital than they ever imagined...

Hekmat Karzai, director of a think tank in Kabul, said that although discussions with the Taliban 'might not be too difficult... getting the international community on board would be extremely hard'.

Another problem would be convincing other ethnic groups in Afghanistan who suffered heavily under the Taliban regime to accept any deal...

In May, the former Afghan President Burnahuddin Rabbani said he had contacted the Taliban and received 'encouraging responses'. The Taliban published a statement on their website saying they would 'fight until the withdrawal of the last crusading invader', but added that 'the door for talks, understanding and negotiations will always be open' to 'mujahideen' such as Rabbani, who fought the Russians in the Eighties.

One problem with the Saudi-sponsored talks so far is that the go-between has been unable to speak directly to Mullah Omar... (link)
Note the observation of President Hamid Karzai's cousin Hekmat (who was at one time an Afghan embassy official in Washington, appointed shortly after his cousing gained power). He observes that it will be hard to get the international community on board. While he may have had in mind the Russians or the Iranians, it seems more likely he was thinking of the Americans. After all, Pakistan has shown its willingness to talk with insurgents, as has Britain, as the current case shows.

I am yet to see any commentary which has stated the obvious: that the United States, which is avowedly promoting democracy in a sovereign Afghanistan, is preventing that country from taking the widely popular step of negotiating with insurgents.

The Taliban leadership has reportedly denied that talks were occurring, saying the reports are an effort to sap their morale. Howevcer, in relating their spokesman's words, Reuters correspondent Sayed Salahuddin observes that even the Taliban's denial reveals a softening stance:
"Our struggle will continue until the withdrawal of foreign forces and the establishment of an independent Islamic government," said the statement sent to Reuters.

Despite the denial of talks and the hard-line rhetoric, the statement appeared to maintain a softening of the Taliban line on the Afghan government begun this year in that it did not call for the toppling of President Hamid Karzai's administration. (link)

No comments: