Talkin’ to the Taliban: Big Stumbling Blocks

You’ve seen my latest guess re:  the latest talking about talking to the Taliban:  I say the chances of senior Taliban coming into any tent with the West is “not bloody likely”.

This seems to meshe with the views of several unnamed sources quoted or paraphrased in this article in Asia Times Online:

…. A senior Arab diplomat who has been directly involved in some backchannel negotiations with the Taliban told Asia Times Online that one of the problems any talks faced was that neither side had changed its basic position: the Taliban want an unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops, while Western leaders want the Taliban to immediately stop all hostilities …. If …. the links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda now run deeper than is generally reported, it would rule out any chance of senior Taliban commanders being reconciled: firstly, they would not want to switch, given their newfound loyalty to Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda. And secondly, if some did conceivably seek reconciliation, they would presumably be “barred” anyway for having links to al-Qaeda.  Lower-level Taliban could well be lured from the movement, but it is doubtful they would leave in sufficient numbers, and the leadership would still be intact to drive the resistance ….

For now, I’m still sticking with “not bloody likely”.

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…