End Game in Afghanistan
April 22, 2011
Encouraged with the results of indirect contacts, the powers that be seem to be contemplating to officially enter into talks with the Taliban so as to pave the way for a more orderly transition in Afghanistan.
“I know that reconciling with an adversary as brutal as Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. But, diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. This is how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face to face with Milosevic and ended a war.”Hillary
It is believed that a Taliban office in Ankara (Turkey), proposed first by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2010, would facilitate interaction with the Taliban in a secure and neutral environment. Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani-led Afghan High Peace Council has also welcomed the opening of a political office by the Taliban in Turkey. Opening of a Taliban office in Ankara would not only facilitate talks, it would also give a face to the most important player in Afghanistan.
When President Karzai floated the proposal last year, Turkey eager to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan together in trilateral meetings in Ankara, positively responded to the offer immediately. However, when Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul met in Ankara on April 14, 2011, neither of them cared to comment on the fate of opening of the proposed office in Ankara.
Officially, both Pakistan and Turkey maintain that they are waiting to receive a request about the opening of the office from the Taliban themselves. However, Reuter quoted a Pakistan official as having stated anonymously: “We have no reservations about such an office being opened. We are not against it, as long as there is ownership from the Afghan people and the Afghan government doesn’t oppose it.”
During meeting with Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani-led Pakistan delegation, on April 16, 2011, in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai informed that a good progress has been made in talks with peace-loving Taliban. He announced that March 23 will be the start of the transition process that would eventually lead to the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. A good news, indeed, which would be hailed by the pacifists the world over.
President Karzai and Prime Minister Gilani have also agreed to boost joint peace efforts with Taliban insurgents. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani stated that Washington was also on board over fresh endeavours for lasting peace. “Whatever will be decided,” Gilani said, “will be among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.” However, Gilani made it unequivocally clear that Islamabad stands by a solution emerging from within Afghanistan. He stressed on an “inclusive strategy” encompassing all groups within Afghanistan to share the decision about their country’s future.
Prime Minister Gilani and President Karzai have also agreed to form a joint Pak-Afghan Peace and Conciliation Commission, which will work at two levels. The first tier of the joint commission will comprise of the chief executives of both the countries, army chiefs, heads of intelligence agencies and foreign and interior ministers, while foreign and interior secretaries, director-general military operations and director-generals of military intelligence will form its second tier.
However, Washington has so far tried to maintain ambiguity over the issue of officially entering into talks with the Taliban. About talks with the Taliban, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is quoted to have said that the Taliban were confronted with a choice between political compromise and ostracism as ‘an enemy of the international community.’ She added: “I know that reconciling with an adversary as brutal as Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. But, diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. This is how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face to face with Milosevic and ended a war.”
As the ‘end game’ approached, a reputed defence analyst of Pakistan, Lt. General (R) Talat Masood, according to Mariana Baabar (The News: April 16), viewed the setting up of a Taliban office as a good bargain, which possibly should have the support of everyone in Pakistan. However, he pointed out: “At this stage, the Taliban are looking very good and have improved their position; why should they be interested to talk to anyone? And if there is anyone that they would want to talk to, it would be Americans. Have the Turks, Afghans and Pakistanis taken the Americans along on the issue of opening this office?”
Hitherto, the US-NATO had tried to justify their war against the Afghan Taliban on the plea that the Taliban would allow al-Qaeda to return to Afghanistan. But, the notion has been challenged, rather smashed by new historical evidence, which suggests that the Taliban leadership had offered to reconcile with the US-backed Hamid Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001.
In a paper, recently published by the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn recount the decision by the Taliban leadership in 2002 to offer political reconciliation with the new Afghan administration. According to them, the entire senior Taliban political leadership met in Pakistan, in November 2002, to consider an offer of reconciliation with the new Afghan government in which they would “join the political process” in Afghanistan and agreed to return to Afghanistan to participate in the political system, if given an assurance that they would not be arrested. But, Kabul and Washington refused to offer such an assurance, considering the Taliban to be a spent force.
Taliban former foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who had been serving as an intermediary with the Taliban on their possible return in 2002, was “arrested and imprisoned for his pains,” according to Robert Grenier, then CIA’s station chief in Islamabad (Al-Jazeera: January 31, 2010). Despite CIA’s efforts to get him released, US Defence Department kept Muttawakil in detention at Bagram Airbase, where he was also physically abused until October 2003, reveals Grenier.
Though the Taliban had welcomed al-Qaeda’s support and assistance in the war, Alex and Felix point out, their relationship was a “marriage of convenience” imposed by the foreign military presence, not an expression of an ideological alliance. Furthermore, relations between Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders during the second half of the 1990s were “complicated and often tense,” even though they were both Sunni Muslims and shared a common enemy.
In support, they cite as evidence Taliban leadership’s willingness to provide guarantees that a Taliban-influenced regime in Afghanistan would not allow al-Qaeda to have a sanctuary on the Afghan soil. To substantiate it, they refer to a public statement released before the London Conference of January 2010 that pledged, “We will not allow our soil to be used against any other country.” An earlier statement, released to the Press on December 4, 2009 said: The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” had “no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantees if foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.”
The revelation proves, once again, that Uncle Sam creates a myth, publicises it repeatedly till the global population accepts it as a reality and then unleashes military might on the demonised target, ostensibly to achieve the publicly stated objectives but in reality to pursue some hidden or undisclosed strategic goals. However, after Iraqi myth of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Washington-created myth of the Afghan Taliban providing sanctuary to al-Qaeda also stands shattered.
 The News, February 10, 2011, Gareth Porter, ‘Shattering the myth’