Taliban opponents talking to the Taliban
By Tim Foxley
Summary: Political opposition in Afghanistan are apparently also talking to the Taliban. Complication and confusion look likely. Fragments of “backroom room deals” will not help anyone. Beware of default assumptions that all negotiations are good…
Associated Press report that some Afghan political parties may be engaged in dialogue with the Taliban:
Afghan political parties united against President Hamid Karzai recently opened talks with the Taleban and U.S.-declared terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, hoping to broker peace ahead of next year’s exit of international combat troops and a presidential race that will determine Karzai’s successor, Taleban and opposition leaders have told The Associated Press.
It’s the first confirmation that the opposition has opened its own, new channel of discussions to try to find a political resolution to the war, now in its 12th year. And the Taleban too seem to want to move things forward, even contemplating replacing their top negotiator, two senior Taleban officials told the AP.
Reaching an understanding with both the Taleban and Hekmatyar’s militant group, Hezb-e-Islami, would give the opposition, which expects to field a consensus candidate in next year’s presidential election, a better chance at cobbling together a post-Karzai government. The alternative to a multi-party government after the 2014 elections, many fear, could signal a return to the internecine fighting of the early 1990s that devastated the capital Kabul.
But with ongoing back-channel discussions and private meetings being held with Taleban interlocutors around the world, it’s difficult to know exactly who’s talking with whom.
Early last year, Karzai, who demands that any talks be led by his government, said that his administration, the US and the Taleban had held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war. The US and the Taleban, however, both deny that such talks took place.
Hekmatyar’s group has held talks with both the Karzai government and the United States, and a senior US official said the Taleban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the US
The Taleban broke off formal discussions with the US last year and have steadfastly rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers.
News about the opposition group’s new avenue of talks comes amid Karzai’s latest round of verbal attacks on the United States, which have infuriated some of his allies in Washington and confused some of his senior advisers.
Analysis and Outlook
This looks likely to complicate and confuse things further, to the detriment of any genuine aspirations for some form of political settlement, such as they are. To my memory, this is actually not the first time the opposition parties have engaged in dialogue with the Taliban – I seem to recall Burhanuddin Rabbani acknowledging links with the insurgents several years back. Ah yes, here we are:
April 2008: An opposition group says its leaders, including a former president, have been meeting with the Taliban and other anti-government groups in hopes of negotiating an end to rising violence in Afghanistan. The contacts have taken place between leaders of the opposition National Front and “high level” militant leaders during the last few months, party spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki said in an interview Sunday. He said among those at the meetings were former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, now a member of parliament, and Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who is President Hamid Karzai’s security adviser and a powerful northern strongman. Rabbani said Afghanistan’s six-year war must be solved through talks, echoing a view held by many in the country.
“There’s no doubt that some inside the Taliban are not willing to negotiate, but there are some Taliban who are interested in solving problems through talks,” Rabbani, Afghanistan’s president from 1992-96, told The Associated Press in an interview.
“We in the National Front and I myself believe the solution for the political process in Afghanistan will happen through negotiations,” he said.
Deals need to come from governments and not factions. It is difficult to get a feeling that anything good is going to come out of fragments of backroom deals, masquerading as “talks”. At best, additional participants will complicate. At worst, as we saw in the 1990s, dysfunctional, warring factions can bicker and bomb about the allocation of goverment ministries and whose turn it is to be President indefinitely. But I also feel that the US should perhaps consider “backing off” with its version of talks as well – it wants its Prisoner of War released and something that looks like a peace deal that can be brandished as “victory” for the domestic audience. That is broadly the extent of it and risks being unhelpful in the long-term. Surely there is a case for the government of Afghanistan, for all its faults, to be the only group talking to the Taliban. At the moment, the Taliban and US talking together separately does nothing but further undermine the credibility of the Afghan government. This is good for the Taliban, but bad for everyone else. Perhaps the US should be saying “if the Taliban genuinely want to talk they should do so with the Afghan government and no one else”?