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Senior Taliban leadership meeting reported and denied

November 6, 2013

Summary: A media report describes convincingly a senior Afghan Taliban leadership meeting in which they discusses the weaknesses in their insurgency campaign and the likely need for peace talks.  The Taliban themselves denouce this report as propaganda from intelligence agencies

Photos of Afghan maps 006A very interesting report from the Daily Beast, by Ron Moreau on 1st November, to be instantly and aggressively countered by the Taliban themselves.  The article purported, through a “senior Taliban source” to describe a very significant Afghan Taliban leadership meeting in Pakistan which heatedly discussed the state of the insurgency (and its weaknesses) and approaches to peace talks.

Here is the gist, quoted from the report:

1st Nov, 2013: Taliban’s Quetta Shura Meet in Islamabad to Press for Peace

The Daily Beast: In a top-secret ruling council meeting in Pakistan’s capital, the Quetta Shura has agreed to pursue a political solution with Afghanistan rather than stepping up insurgent attacks.

The top-secret pow-wow, which was exclusively described to The Daily Beast by a senior Taliban who witnessed the gathering, was attended by the insurgency’s 10 most influential leaders, including Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, arguably the movement’s top military man; Maulvi Hassan Rahmani, a key southern commander; and Abdul Rauf Khadim and Mullah Gul Agha, who are believed to be close to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s leader and founder. Abdul Qayum Zakir was the only senior Shura member who was absent for unknown reasons…Some Shura members had been arguing that as the U.S. and its allies continue to wind down combat operations, which presumably will end at the end of next year, now is not the time for peace negotiations. Rather it is the time to increase the size and tempo of guerrilla attacks…

Others held that despite Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s abrupt and histrionic breaking-off of the peace talks even before they began in Qatar last summer—a move which the guerrilla leadership saw as a serious slap in the face—the pursuit of peace is the only realistic option for the insurgency. They argued that while the Taliban explored peace options the guerrillas in the field should not escalate but continue to wage the low-intensity insurgency as it is now, largely featuring roadside bombs and suicide attacks…

It was widely agreed that ramping up the pace of the armed struggle through this winter and into next spring would be fruitless, only leading to more casualties without scoring a breakthrough. “We know our strength,” says the senior Taliban official who was at the meeting and is not authorized to speak to the press. “Even the speeding up of attacks would not make much difference on the ground.” There was, the Shura concluded, no military solution. “Most agreed that after more than 12 years of war searching for a political solution would be the best option,” the senior Taliban official went on. “We can’t suddenly gain magical strength that can guarantee our takeover of Kabul.” “Even if we did somehow capture Kabul, it would not end the war,” he adds.

Analysis and Outlook

It is difficult, as with anything connected with the Taliban inner circle, to pass judgement on the credibility of the information – information which, if accurate, is very powerful, revealing and something that intelligence agencies of all colours would give a lot for.

The debate described here seems to plausibly echo previous reports of Taliban calculations and considerations.  Unless there is some major strategic shift in power between factions and the international community (eg a collapse in international funding, the fragmentation of Afghan army and/or a re-emergence of powerful Afghan warlords contesting for power) that Taliban have little chance of recapturing Kabul.  And neither would capturing Kabul necessarily indicate political or military “victory” of any measurable kind.  Clearly these are deliberations, regardless of the outcome, that the Taliban would not like exposed.  Even if these internal talks, as reported, are broadly accurate, seeing some of this pragmatic recognition that military victory is unlikely turn into a coherent strategy for political engagement (and, in the longer-term, “reintegration” into Afghan society), will be problematic.  As an indication of the sensitivities with which the Taliban view discussion of such issues, the Taliban media apparatus rushed to deny, denounce and deflect the news article – coming out with an official media statement on their website, two days later, which I quote in full:

Remarks of spokesman of Islamic Emirate regarding baseless report by ‘The Daily Beast’

Taliban flagCreated on Sunday, 03 November 2013 19:06

Yesterday, ‘The Daily Beast’ newspaper, which pursues a malicious intelligence agenda and is run by famous intelligence agents, published a far from reality, purely propaganda based and fabricated report regarding the Islamic Emirate which stated that some leaders of Islamic Emirate had met in the Pakistani city of Islamabad, showed their inclination towards peace and other such nonsense…….

We reject every aspect of this report. The assertions cited by ‘The Daily Beast’ are contrary to the policy and manifesto of the Islamic Emirate and similarly the talk about conflict between the leaders of Islamic Emirate in also propaganda and devilish scheme of the said newspaper which has no substance. We urge all media outlets to be cautious of such pure propaganda which has no reality to it and is the work of intelligence agencies.

We have designated spokesmen and a dedicated website for our activities from where anyone can contact us to attain access to information. Attributing false statements to the Islamic Emirate and associating unknown figures with us violates the basic principles of journalism. In our view these are vengeful attempts by certain identified persons who wish to spread their own personal agendas through these reports and we ask all independent media outlets to refrain from publishing these baseless reports. We would also like to point out that ‘The Daily Beast’ has on several occasions published such baseless reports to advance their agendas. They also regularly attribute their statements to ‘Zabiullah’ so as to portray it to be me, Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of Islamic Emirate. The truth is that neither I have ever spoken with this media outlet nor has any other official within the Islamic Emirate ever corresponded with them.

 

The spokesman of Islamic Emirate

Zabihullah Mujahid

29/12/1343

12/08/1392         03/11/2013

A very real sense of the Taliban protesting too much here – either because they are wrong-footed by this level of very personal information emerging without their consent, or because – equally plausible and not necessarily an exclusive explanation – their media machine is still quite crude and old-fashioned.  This was quite an immature response (and one they have repeated over the years) where perhaps silence as a demonstration of refusal to be drawn in might have been a more sensible response.  My personal sense is that, with both main military sides (a US-backed Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban) still in the field and willing and able to fight, a form of military stalemate over the next few years is very plausible unless key players energise this slight recognition that perhaps no-one is able to “win” and push for coherent talks.

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