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!

TALIBAN PROPAGANDA WATCH: Taliban Senator Speaks

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.