Taliban Wants U.S. Withdrawal Deadline in Writing

With the formation of the High Council for Peace in Afghanistan, here have been calls for the U.S. to show some good faith to move the reconciliation process forward. Some call for releasing more folks from Guantanamo, while other mutterings suggest more bad guys may be removed from the U.N.’s Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee Consolidated List. Now, the Taliban is suggesting yet another way for the U.S. to show good faith.

Previous Taliban statements, both official and from approved spokespersons, have been clear: “we don’t talk until foreign troops leave”. A few have hinted at something short of that (such as “Nobody would believe such talk unless foreign troops in Afghanistan act honestly, announce clear and transparent plans for addressing the issue, and announce there is clear platform about the presence of foreign troops” here). Now, we see this in an unsigned statement on the Taliban’s Voice of Jihad web site (direct link to statement here, link to copy of statement at Scribd.com here):

“…. The reconciliation propaganda launched by the Americans and the Kabul Puppet Administration is meaningless in the light of this hard fact that how can reconciliation be materialized in condition of presence of more than one hundred thousands foreign troops , being armed with motley of weapons, aircrafts (sic.), missiles, tanks and other warfare hardware. The rationale for reconciliation can be only convincing when, at least, the invading Americans put signature on a document before the people of Afghanistan and the world, binding them legally to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan in a given time-frame ….”

While not signed by the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, the presence of this statement on the Taliban’s page suggests, at the very least, Taliban endorsement of the idea.

The glass-is-half-full view: This appears to be the first statement of a clearly identifiable condition to possibly bring the Taliban to the negotiating table that could be achieved without foreign troops leaving first. This could be seen by some as an “olive branch” to Western forces, allowing them to stay in country while showing a bit of good faith.

The glass-is-half-empty view: It’s not surprising the Taliban would like the idea of a firm end date for foreign troops to be out of the country. Those with less faith in Taliban “good faith” will see that as a mobilization deadline for insurgents to ramp up to, even if talks were under way.

One never knows what might or might not be offered by Taliban envoys in “the talks that are always denied”, but I have yet to see, hear or read about any “good faith” gestures offered by (or sought of) the Taliban to show they’re willing to put down their weapons and peacefully participate in Afghan civil society.

Until that happens, I continue to bet my money on the “glass-half-empty” analysis.

Crossposted at Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix

UN Official Says Some Taliban Should Be Pulled from Sanctions List

Remember this tidbit (and this one) from a former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations about one way to open the doors to talking?

The first important thing is to lift the sanctions on the leaders of the armed opposition. They are blacklisted and multimillion-dollar rewards are offered for some leaders of the opposition. They have not been recognized as a legitimate part of the political process. But no such step has been taken place so far.  So it is not logical to invite a person who has a bounty of millions of dollars [on him for his capture and] ask him to give up his sanctuary and attend this Loya Jirga.

Well, it appears at least one senior U.N. official may be buying it – this, via the New York Times:

The leader of the United Nations mission here called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations’ list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group.

In an interview, Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative, also implored the American military to speed its review of the roughly 750 detainees in its military prisons here — another principal grievance of Taliban leaders. Until recently, the Americans were holding those prisoners at a makeshift detention center at Bagram Air Base and refusing to release their names.

Together, Mr. Eide said he hoped that the two steps would eventually open the way to face-to-face talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders, many of whom are hiding in Pakistan. The two sides have been at an impasse for years over almost every fundamental issue, including the issue of talking itself ….

We hear echos of the former ambassador’s rationale later in the NYT story:

“This would allow the Taliban to appear in public,” said Arsalan Rahmani, a former deputy minister with the Taliban who now lives in the Afghan capital, Kabul. “It would allow the possibility of starting negotiations in a third country.”

You might remember Rahmani as someone else who’s been talking like a “moderate Taliban”.

Who could be pulled from the list?

Mr. Eide said he did not believe that senior Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar should be removed from the list. It was Mullah Omar, after all, who provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which launched the Sept. 11 attacks.

But some second-tier Taliban should be taken from the list, he said. Those leaders are not necessarily associated with terrorist acts but might be able to speak for the movement, he said, and might be willing to reciprocate a good-will gesture.

The Taliban willing to “reciprocate a good-will gesture”?  Here’s an excerpt from the Taliban’s latest editorial on their Voice of Jihad English-language web page (links available here):

The aim is to pave the way for uneducated, ignorant and unaware stooges to remain at the helms of power thanks to multi-faceted support of imperialism. Then the Western powers bind their surrogates by various agreements at the expense of national, cultural and religious values and vital interests of the nation. They take hold of all strategic assets of a country including telecommunication, dams, transportation, mines etc. After that, colonialism tends to plunder the wealth and natural resources with both hands. Similarly, the invading powers distribute national wealth among members of society unfairly and unequally, giving a lion share to their flunkeys and hirelings.

Yeah, this is messaging coming from a group willing to work with the Karzai government and ISAF – NOT!

Afghanistan Opening the Door to Reconciliation with (Some) Taliban?

Remember this, where we heard a former Taliban ambassador to the UN quoted saying this about one way to ensure bringing the Taliban to a loya jirga?

The first important thing is to lift the sanctions on the leaders of the armed opposition. They are blacklisted and multimillion-dollar rewards are offered for some leaders of the opposition. They have not been recognized as a legitimate part of the political process. But no such step has been taken place so far.  So it is not logical to invite a person who has a bounty of millions of dollars [on him for his capture and] ask him to give up his sanctuary and attend this Loya Jirga. He might get captured the next day and end up in Guantanamo Bay [prison]. Who will guarantee their safety?

Well, according to the New York Times and the German DPA news agency, Afghanistan’s United Nations envoy is asking the Security Council to “lift sanctions on elements of the Taliban that renounce violence and agree to support the government”.

It’ll be interesting to see:

1)  who Afghanistan, claiming they’re now willing to play nice-nice, asks to have removed from the the black list maintained by the United Nations Security Council’s Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee; and

2)  what the Taliban’s response will be, even though the most recent interview with the Taliban’s second-in-command Mullah Baradar (h/t to Juan Cole at the Informed Comment blog) suggests the Taliban’s centre still toes a harder line about talking to Karzai’s team in Kabul.

More on Baradar’s latest statement soon…

TALIBAN PROPAGANDA WATCH: Negotiations? No. Loya Jirga? Maybe, IF…

Some interesting material to be gleaned from a brief Q&A between Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and former Taliban representative to the U.N. Abdul Hakim Mujahid.

The biggest key message from the interview:  can’t even consider a Loya Jirga of all the players before you remove some of the bad guys off the black list maintained by the United Nations Security Council’s Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee:

The first important thing is to lift the sanctions on the leaders of the armed opposition. They are blacklisted and multimillion-dollar rewards are offered for some leaders of the opposition. They have not been recognized as a legitimate part of the political process. But no such step has been taken place so far.  So it is not logical to invite a person who has a bounty of millions of dollars [on him for his capture and] ask him to give up his sanctuary and attend this Loya Jirga. He might get captured the next day and end up in Guantanamo Bay [prison]. Who will guarantee their safety?

Most recently, the official line from the Taliban Info-machine has been “no negoptiation until foreign troops are outta here.” What interesting in this latest RFE/RL interview is that, if the quote is word-for-word correct, there appears to be a lower standard for participating in a Loya Jirga…

Nobody would believe such talk unless foreign troops in Afghanistan act honestly, announce clear and transparent plans for addressing the issue, and announce there is clear platform about the presence of foreign troops.

This atmosphere will only go away when the foreign forces — the UN, the United States, and the United Kingdom — get rid of contradictions in their policies. Their policies are now riddled with contradictions. Sometimes they say we [will] not negotiate with the hard-liners fighting against us but have no problems talking to the moderates.

Also, as another pre-condition for Loya Jirga participation, the interviewee wants to involve NATO more, at least in agreeing on an approach with the Afghan government:

First of all, the government of Afghanistan should come to an agreement with the foreign troops based in Afghanistan in forming a unified strategy.

Interesting how the Taliban’s big bosses and central spokespersons paint in black and white, while the peripheral flacks at least SEEM to be able to paint in a few shades of grey.