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Taliban office “open”: US to talk directly to Taliban?

June 18, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary:  Taliban open the much promised and debated “office” in Qatar.  Can political dialogue really be as easy as this?

Photos of Afghan maps 006I am still thinking about this appparent “breakthrough”:

The US is to open direct talks with Taliban leaders within days, it was revealed on Tuesday, after Washington agreed to drop a series of preconditions that have previously held back negotiations over the future of Afghanistan.

In a major milestone in the 12-year-old war, political representatives of the Taliban will shortly meet Afghan and US officials in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to discuss an agenda for what US officials called “peace and reconciliation” before further talks take place with Afghan government representatives soon after.

The Taliban, in a statement announcing their plans for peace talks and an office in Qatar, said they would not allow anyone to threaten or harm other countries from Afghan soil – a move senior US administration officials described as an important first step to the Taliban severing ties with al-Qaida.

The Taliban had this statement on their website:

Taliban flagEveryone is aware that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been waging Jihad and working tirelessly to bring an end to the invasion of Afghanistan and establish in it an independent Islamic government and has always utilized every legitimate method to achieve this goal.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has both military as well as political objectives which are confined to Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate does not wish to harm other countries from its soil and neither will it allow others use Afghan soil to pose a threat to the security of other nations! The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have cordial relations on basis of mutual respect with all the countries of the world including its neighbors and desires security for its nation as well as security and justice on international level.

Undoubtedly the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers it its religious and national obligation to free its country from occupation and has used every legitimate method for this goal which it will keep on doing in the future. Similarly, it considers the struggle of every oppressed nation working for their due rights and independence to be their legitimate right because every nation deserves to secure freedom from imperialism and attain their rights.

It is due to these objectives that the Islamic Emirate considered it necessary to open a political office in the Islamic country of Qatar for the following reasons:

  1.  To talk and improve relations with the international community through mutual understanding.
  2. To back such a political and peaceful solution which ends the occupation of Afghanistan, establishes an independent Islamic government and brings true security which is the demand and genuine aspiration of the entire nation.
  3. To have meetings with Afghans in due appropriate time.
  4. To establish contact with the United Nations, international and regional organizations and non-governmental institutions.
  5. To give political statements to the media on the ongoing political situation.

We also thank the government of Qatar and its Emir ‘Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’ to have agreed with inaugurating the political office of Islamic Emirate and to have made everything easy in this regard.

Analysis and Outlook

This has been an “on and off” story for at least a couple of years.  I had kind of assumed that an office was pretty much up and running anyway.  An official announcement might herald some new talks, but I still struggle to see whether it actually changes anything.  Formal recognition of the Taliban at some small level – like allowing them an office – is good.  However, this still need mean little more than “talks about talks” can now take place.   I have said for a while now that for the US to dictate “surrender terms” to the Taliban (publically reject AQ, reject armed violence, support the constitution, human rights, women’s rights etc) when they were in no position to do so was a poor strategy.  Humiliating your opponent during a delicate negotiation can rarely be a good idea.  It seems there might now be some flexibility from the US on the public rejection of AQ  – which, to be honest, is probably the easier of conditions for the Taliban to swallow.  Furthermore, I don’t trust the American angle in all this – I am concerned that they will be searching for a quick and easy political settlement that superficially looks and sounds like a solution to Afghanistan and something that they can sell as “victory” back in the US – and all before the end of 2014.   Beware of false endings to an insurgency is the caution from an informative Rand study “How Insurgencies End”.  I would also have added “beware of rushed-through political ‘band-aid’ solutions that treat symptons rather than causes and turn out ultimately to be unsustainable…” if it wasn’t such a mouthful…

Finally, with the Americans inserting themselves in this way, I think we are still very unclear on key issues such as:

  1. what the relationship is (or should be) between the Taliban and the Afghan government (Taliban reject Afg govt as puppets – so much for “sovereignty” if the US are talking for, against or around the Karzai government
  2. who is talking to who
  3. on whose behalf
  4. on what subjects
  5. how any decisions are agreed, endorsed and enforced
  6. what say the Afghan people might want to have in the process
  7. longer term issues such as wider reconciliation and war crimes

There are many political factions that are very wary of any deals with the Taliban: one (Mohaqqeq) has just survived  a suicide attempt on his life, another (Dostum) has apparently shot up an opponent and apparently wants to take the fight to the Taliban independent of the ANSF  and another (Fahim) has been demanding major political change and more power for the (anti-Taliban) Mujahideen.  This all in the same week.  What say that they will all roll over when Karzai claims to have secured a “deal” with Mullah Omar?


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