With the war in Afghanistan entering its tenth year today, perhaps there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometime this summer, the Obama administration shifted gears to support a negotiated deal with the Taliban. That’s according to the Washington Post, which reported on Wednesday that talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban are underway. Equally important, according to the Post, is the fact that the White House now supports the talks, which seems reasonable in light of the fact that Obama is committed to start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July.
Now it makes sense why General Petraeus, the counterinsurgency fiend, brought up the fact that talks might be getting started.
So far, only a few thinktankers, such as Gilles Dorronsoro, and pundits such as Fareed Zakaria, have come out strongly in favor of talking with the Taliban, even though there’s no other way out of the war other than having the United States simply packing up and leaving.
According to the Post, there has been a recent “change of heart by the Obama administration,” which officially pooh-poohed talks to end the war. A European official quoted in the story says that the change took place over the summer. A US official, speaking anonymously, said that “the time for real negotiations has only now arrived.” That latter statement is patently false, but it’s designed to imply that the escalation ordered by Obama last year has somehow turned the tide and forced the Taliban to the bargaining table. In September, the Post says, Obama pushed his national security team to work harder for a political solution.
Steffan di Mistura, the UN representative in Afghanistan, is quoted: “There is only one format for the next months. It is political dialogue, reconciliation, deal.”
According to the story, talks took place in Dubai, in the UAE. The talks were “secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war.” Most important is the fact that the Taliban side was represented by people who could speak for Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura, the leadership of the Taliban allegedly based in that Pakistan city. The article noted that Pakistan is demanding a central role, as expected, in the talks. “They try to keep very tight control,” said a source.
On Thursday, a churlish Post editorial pooh-poohed its own story. It harrumphed that Karzai will make a deal that the United States shouldn’t accept. “Karzai would settle for a deal that gives the Taliban a share of power and perhaps control over parts of the country, in exchange for an end to the war and the promise of a break with Al Qaeda.” That sounds like a pretty good deal to me, but the Post calls it “morally repugnant,” as if crushing and destroying the Taliban is the only way out of the war.
Despite some reports that the Haqqani group, supposedly the hardest of the hardliners involved in the insurgency and the ones closest to Al Qaeda, aren’t part of the talks, the Guardian reports today that both Afghanistan and the United States are also engaged in contacts with the Haqqani forces: “Hamid Karzai’s government held direct talks with senior members of the Haqqani clan over the summer, according to well-placed Pakistani and Arab sources. The US contacts have been indirect, through a western intermediary, but have continued for more than a year.” Like the Taliban, the Haqqani group is closely allied to the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI.
There are plenty of other reports about the talks, too. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Afghan officials, retired Pakistani security chiefs and former Taliban leaders are meeting in Kabul, trying to find ways to open peace talks with the insurgents—possibly by dropping key Western-backed conditions to such a reconciliation. The meetings, sponsored by the United Arab Emirates and held Tuesday and Wednesday in Kabul’s luxurious Serena Hotel, don’t involve insurgents. The Taliban’s position is to refuse all peace contacts as long as US-led international forces remain in the country. President Hamid Karzai’s aides and other officials said, however, that the Afghan government would be ready to abandon some previously announced ‘red lines.’”
This is all good. Stay tuned.