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TALIBAN WANTS TALKS WITH AFGHAN GOVERNMENT

Analysis by Lal Aqa Shirin

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NATO Forces Surrender Part of Afghanistan to Taliban

(IPS) KABUL -- Taliban spokesperson, Qari Yusof Ahmadi, has confirmed to the press that the Taliban are ready to directly negotiate with the Afghan government.

In contrast to Ahmadi's previous statements, he said last week that the Taliban have never rejected negotiations with the government. Earlier he had insisted that talks would begin only on the condition that foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Taliban agreed to negotiations a day after President Hamid Karzai extended an invitation for talks on Sep. 9. Although the positive response from the Taliban is welcome, it is important to consider what will be on the agenda for discussion and whether the negotiations will have the impact everyone is expecting.

Will the negotiations address the larger questions confronting Afghanistan or will these be reduced to few local deals in the south? Will these talks conclude an establishment of real peace in Afghanistan or merely buy time for the belligerents?

These are some of the questions Afghans are asking themselves. They are hopeful but they also know that the situation is very complex, which will require vision, patience and real leadership from both sides.


Equally important to remember are the interests of the international community, in particular the United States which invaded this country with a very specific goal in mind: to exact revenge on those who perpetrated the Sep. 11 attacks in the U.S. and those who harboured them, meaning the Taliban.

Interestingly, despite the invitation to talks, both sides are actively engaged in combat. Neither warring side has made any suggestion regarding putting a ceasefire in place as a pre-condition for negotiations, which is odd.

Although the initial toppling of the Taliban regime and driving out the al-Qaeda in end-2001 was welcomed by the Afghan people, subsequent military operations against the Taliban and other insurgents, with the resultant losses suffered by the civilian population caught in the cross fire has angered people and Afghan authorities.

It has undermined the credibility of the government and its international allies in pursuing their ‘war on terror' in Afghanistan.

From what is known, the government is keenly evaluating the Taliban's positive response to Karzai's offer of negotiations. The government has also welcomed the Taliban's decision to drop their previous pre-condition for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan before holding negotiations with the government.

Talking to the Taliban and reaching any deal with them will undoubtedly change the face of Afghan politics and may further strain relations with the Northern Alliance followers, who helped by U.S. money, Special Forces and air power, drove the Taliban from power.

The issue of negotiations with the Taliban is hotly debated in media and political circles. Some members of the Mushrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) have already accepted the principle of negotiating with the Taliban and have said that improvement of security in Afghanistan is directly linked to Taliban's participation in national politics.

A further point to carefully consider relates to who from the Taliban ranks will take part in the negotiations. Will the majority of Taliban leadership come to the negotiation table or only a few disaffected commanders who are unhappy about the Taliban's links to al-Qaeda?

The so-called moderate Taliban or new-Taliban represented by their former foreign minister Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil or their former ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif, have already warned the government and the international community that they must negotiate with the Taliban or risk further violence and ascendance of hard core Taliban who might refuse to negotiate at all.

But who do they really represent among the Taliban ranks? Do they really have any influence with the Taliban leadership that is waging the ongoing war? Can they bring them to the negotiation table? Should we be taking them seriously? By including people like Mutawakil and Zaif, can their participation in national politics weaken the hard core Taliban? Or should we be talking to the hard-core Taliban instead. Or, should we be doing both?

It is likely that the hard-core Taliban leadership with strong links to al-Qaeda will resist talking to the government and its international allies. What would be interesting to know is the numerical strength of these hard-core elements, how close their links are to al-Qaeda and the influence they have over the Taliban's war policy.

Only when this information is available can a strategy to influence their choices succeed. If it is found that the local commanders waging the war are largely acting independently and their agenda is not linked to al-Qaeda, the chances for holding negotiations and succeeding in them are much greater.

It is quite likely that the U.S. administration has realized the limit of its strategy in Afghanistan and is trying to consolidate its gains at the 2008 presidential elections, by orchestrating a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban that can be heralded as a ‘success.'

Such a scenario makes good sense. For example, U.S. strategic interests will be guaranteed by ensuring the continuity of a friendly Afghan government and its ‘war on terror,' with a slight modification of shifting its war focus from Taliban back to al-Qaeda.



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Albion Monitor   September 21, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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