Taliban talks not clear path to peace

April 30, 2010


— After two weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I’m struck by how much hot air is expended on rumors of talks with the Taliban.

If you believe the tales, Afghan President Hamid Karzai (or his brother Qayum) was talking to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s No. 2 man, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, before the latter was recently arrested in Pakistan.

A second popular rumor has it that Pakistan arrested Baradar so it could control any talks between U.S. officials and Taliban leaders. A third says the United States is stopping Karzai from meeting Taliban leaders, or blocking a “peace jirga” in Kabul that has just been postponed until late May.

And all these rumors assume that talks among Karzai, the Americans, and top Taliban leaders are the only sure route to peace in Afghanistan.

Only problem: As far as I can ascertain, none of these rumors are true.

Indeed, Karzai has called for reconciliation with the Taliban in recognition that the Afghan people are weary of fighting. Clearly, the Afghan leader wants to give the impression he’s pushing for peace talks. But it’s far less clear whether he’s doing this to bolster his image at home, or because he really believes the Taliban are ready to compromise. I tend to think it’s the former.

However, the rumors that anyone is talking to Taliban leaders are very premature.

U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani sources assure me no meetings were held with Baradar by Karzai, his brother — or, as some claim, by a U.N. official. Messages were sent from Karzai to Baradar via fellow Popalzai tribesmen (Karzai and Baradar are both Popalzais), but no talks ensued. Nor have the Saudis been mediating talks.

As for Pakistan, there’s no question its top intelligence agency, the ISI, wants a piece of any action. Pakistan has legitimate worries about who will rule Afghanistan should the Americans quit the country and leave a big mess behind. But it would be a mistake to assume that the Pakistani military believes — or desires — the Taliban should retake power in Kabul.

“The Taliban should not expect the same treatment as before from Pakistan because Pakistan has seen the consequences of their bad behavior,” says Mahmoud Shah, a retired Pakistani general who formerly headed security affairs along the Afghan border. In the 1990s, Shah says, Pakistan backed the Taliban because they brought order to the anarchy that had erupted in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviets by jihadi fighters.

But, Shah continues, Pakistani support for the Taliban backfired after they became the protectors of Osama bin Laden: “9/11 damaged Pakistan,” Shah says, “and those Taliban are why Pakistan suffered. Why would Pakistan have a soft spot for them?”

Indeed, Afghan Taliban leaders and the Pakistani military clearly have no love, or trust, for each other. The Pakistani army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, pulled out a thick, stapled sheaf of papers listing 434 Afghan Taliban who have been arrested inside Pakistan. U.S. sources told me the Pakistanis were holding 37 top Taliban operatives.

As for Baradar, he apparently was captured by accident when U.S. and Pakistani agents broke up a meeting of insurgents. Pakistan backs Taliban participation in talks — and Baradar may be a pawn — but the ISI won’t place all its bets on one group.

The question of whether the Taliban want a deal — or are willing to compromise their ideology — haunts any discussion of talks with insurgents. U.S. military officials are more interested in wooing mid- and lower-level Taliban to leave the fray by offering jobs and development aid.

But U.S. officials no longer oppose Karzai’s attempts to woo top Taliban leaders; the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, recently praised the Afghan leader for reaching out to all segments of the population. However, he also believes Taliban leaders still think they are winning and won’t compromise unless they have been further weakened by targeted military strikes.

Omar and his inner circle are aware of this jockeying and recently have been trying to burnish their image. Stories have been leaked to the press that Omar is ready to talk, although the Taliban officially deny this. Omar also recently put out statements opposing the destruction of girls’ schools, a widespread practice in territory the Taliban control.

Yet there is no clear sign that Afghan Taliban leaders are ready to compromise on their unyielding ideology, even should all foreign troops leave the country. Nor is there any sign they are willing to lay down their guns.

Yusufzai, the Taliban expert, says: “There can be no real sharing of power between any group and the Taliban. Their way of thinking is that they want complete power.”

The sad thing about the focus on talks with the Taliban is that it assumes these militants speak for those Pashtuns who are unhappy with Kabul’s corruption. But the reality — as I’ve heard over and over from groups of elders from many Afghan provinces — is that Afghan Pashtuns are disenchanted both with Karzai and the Taliban.

The belief that talks with the Taliban provide a silver bullet for peace misses a basic point: Most Afghans don’t want a return of Taliban cruelty, but just want the chance to live, and work, in peace.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Ray Parker 3 years, 11 months ago

No negotiating with terrorists. Defeat, demoralize, and rout your enemy, any way you can.


Paul R Getto 3 years, 11 months ago

Let them talk to each other; we need to come home and let them have their 'country' back. GWB was right (when he campaigned for office) the US should not be involved in nation-building, particularly when there has never been a real nation to invade, suppress and 'reform.' Bring 'em home, Barrack!


cowboy 3 years, 11 months ago

Can't see you avatar Tom , too small !

Obama is getting us out of Iraq despite the flareups of violence over there which is good. Let them work it out and the chips fall where they may. Hope for the same approach in Afghanistan. Just get the boys home. We'll still be over there in 20 years if we think were going to solve anything in that god-forsaken sand hole.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 11 months ago

Hillary needs to tell them she is not serving cookies and tea here. Hillary needs to put on her Hillary side when she was alone with Bill back during the Monica days, and let 'em have it. I know Hillary can scare the bejesus out of the Taliban if she wanted. Isn't my new avatar cool?


Corey Williams 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for all the cut and paste Barry. Maybe next time you can come up with your own stuff?


barrypenders 3 years, 11 months ago

Insurgent Strengths:

The speed and decisiveness of insurgent information operations and media campaigns remain not only the insurgents’ main effort but also their most significant strengths. Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding. The ability to intimidate through targeted killings and threats in order to force acquiescence to their will. The strength and ability of shadow governance to discredit the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan government is increasing. IED use is increasing in numbers and complexity; IEDs are as much a tactic and process as they are a weapon. Insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect.

Insurgent Weaknesses and Vulnerabilities:

The insurgency includes multiple locally-based tribal networks, as well as layered command structures, which at times can make decentralized execution difficult. Persistent fissures among insurgent leadership persist at the local levels. The insurgency is dependent on many marginalized / threatened segments of the Pashtun population. The insurgency is over-reliant on external support. Insurgent violence against civilians and respected figures can be counterproductive.

Stimulus, Cap'n Trudy, and Posercare live unprecedented

Darwin bless us all


barrypenders 3 years, 11 months ago

Trudy is all over it. Ya can't pull the 'Wool' over that girls eyes.

Afghanistan: A Strengthening Foe for the U.S. April 29, 2010 | 1611 GMT

Earlier this week, the Pentagon delivered to the U.S. Congress a congressionally mandated report on the status of the war in Afghanistan. The report acknowledges the Taliban perceive 2009 as their most successful year of operations to date and believe they will be able to sustain their efforts in 2010.

Part of this public report to Congress is about expectations management, especially as the outcome of the new American strategy is still in question. As we noted in our weekly update on the status of the war, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is struggling to consolidate gains in Marjah and win the population over.

While the ISAF has undeniably made gains against the Taliban, this Pentagon report is a reminder of the tenacity of the insurgency and stands in stark contrast to the ambitious goals and short timetables the United States has set for itself

U.S. forces have been on the offensive in the southern part of the country for about a year now. Preparations for the June offensive in Kandahar already are under way — for both the Taliban and the ISAF — and the surge is in the final stages of ramping up before it reaches full strength around the end of August. Yet the assessment of this report indicates the Taliban have not yet been set back significantly and are still robust — a challenge that must be addressed if the United States is to see the progress it desires by the time troops are scheduled to begin withdrawing in summer 2011.

We have outlined the Taliban’s overarching strategy, but this report gives a clear assessment of the movement’s current capabilities on a tactical level. The following are excerpts taken directly from the unclassified version of the report:


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