Finally getting around to sharing a few thoughts on this piece (PDF here in case link doesn’t work, and a link to a French-language version), based on an interview with Afghan senator Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a former Minister for Religious Affairs under the old “Taliban In Charge” days.
The latest on the “how close are AQ & the Taliban”? Rahmani suggests they’re not indivisible:
He believes that the time has come for the guerrilla movement to dissociate itself from his “friend Osama.” But are the members of Mullah Omar’s choura (council of notables), with whom he is in contact, ready for that divorce? In his opinion, it’s not impossible.
He also suggests there’s some leeway in the Taliban’s management regime to allow under-bosses to talk to the Afghan regime:
For, in spite of their military “success,” the Taliban, like all soldiers, would like to be able to go home. Moreover, and contrary to what has been suggested in Mullah Omar’s communiqués, it is sometimes the guerrilla leaders, and not the Afghan presidency, who take the initiative for these meetings, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani assures me. Last year, Mullah Baradar led a Taliban delegation to Kabul to talk with Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum.
That last line intrigues, if only because of its conflict with the “there’s no such thing as a moderate Taliban” line Baradar took in a statement attributed to him late in October:
The terms of moderate (Taliban) and extremists are American-invented terms, which have no physical existence.
Then again, there’s also been in statements early November attribued to official Taliban spokespersons suggesting that some mediated discussions may have taken place:
“There are some people who are conveying each others’ (Taliban and US) messages. But there were no direct talks between us and America,”
A critique of the “bribe the tribes” approach comes from another Taliban “intermediary”, Pir Mohamed, reportedly a former university president under the Taliban (non) Salad Days:
Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Taliban come from very different origins. Mores come from Uzbekistan, Kandahar or Khost. And one may neither set the tribes against one another nor buy them: there are too many of them!
Here’s one vision of what the Taliban Head Shed would like to do:
The rebels would like to install themselves somewhere, then form a government-in-exile to elaborate the conditions for a negotiation with the Karzai government. Why not in Saudi Arabia where Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has already tried to organize a meeting between the enemy sides? Then from Riyadh, the Taliban leadership could negotiate its own neutrality in exchange for a right to return, amnesty and participation in political life after the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Rahmani closes with how Pakistan’s Taliban bosses have to be brought into the tent as part of a solution:
“As long as Pakistan’s vital interests, such as the future of the Durand Line, are not taken into account, all discussions will fail,” explains Rahmani. According to him, the key to potential negotiations is in the hands of the Pakistani mullahs, themselves under ISI – the Pakistani secret services’ – control. As are Mullah Fazel Rahman and Sami ul-Haq, who lead the coalition of Pakistani fundamentalist religious parties. “Before the Taliban, it is they who must be convinced to make peace, because today they control al-Qaeda and bin Laden and hold the future of the region in their hands …”
More grist for the mill.