Those Secret Taliban Talks

Those Secret Taliban Talks

The extent of Taliban and Afghan government involvement in the Islamic Party’s peace talks is unclear. But something important is happening, and the State Deparment is interested.

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More details are emerging about the peace talks in the Maldives involving (in one degree or another) representatives of the Taliban, other Afghan insurgents, and members of the government of Afghanistan. Strangely enough, the Maldives talks aren’t being covered by the American media.

It’s murky, but it appears that the talks were organized by the son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Islamic Party. The party, also known as Hizb-i Islami, is based in Pakistan, and its leader, Hekmatyar, was the chief recipient of CIA cash channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, during the U.S.-backed jihad of the 1980s. Reports AP:

“Humayun Jareir, a prominent member of Hizb-i-Islami and Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, told The Associated Press in Kabul by telephone that he organized the Maldives meeting to bring together people who are influential in both Afghanistan’s government and insurgent groups to try to come up with ideas for a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan.

“’We just have important people who are playing important roles in Afghanistan,’ Jareir said. He declined to name any of the participants but said 50 people were attending, 25 of them Afghan parliamentarians.”

In fact, a branch of Hizb-i Islami has reconciled with the Afghan government and is represented in parliament. In March, Hekmatyar’s group sent a delegation to Kabul to meet with President Karzai, bringing a fifteen-point peace plan with it.

It’s unclear to what extent the Taliban itself is taking part in the talks, which are continuing. The AP reports that “officials in Kabul said they did not believe any active members of the Taliban were present although some former members of the Islamist movement were.”

The London Times reports that the Islamic Party, at least, thinks it might be close to a deal: 

“A senior Hizb-e-Islami figure, Qaribul Rahman Sayad, who now lives in Belgium, denied that the talks were officially sanctioned by the group.

“’Officially Hizb e-Islami is not involved in this but we have unofficial representatives there,’ he said by telephone.

“The Times understands that Afghan officials believe talks with Hizb e-Islami are very close to producing a deal under which the group’s armed wing would lay down its weapons and join a reintegration programme.”

According to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar sent his son, Feroz, to represent him at the talks.

The Times adds that both Karzai and the Taliban are keeping a little distance from the talks:

“Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is unhappy that the talks are taking place, but has sent observers to hear what is discussed. His position has been echoed by the Taliban, which has drawn the line at full participation, but has sent representatives in an unofficial capacity.”

It’s not likely that Karzai is too unhappy, but it’s certain that Karzai would like to control the process, especially in advance of the peace jirga with Afghan leaders scheduled for next week. A spokesman for Karzai took pains to distance the Afghan government from the talks:

“We know something is going on in the Maldives, but we are not informed of the details nor are we involved in the process. We do not have any representation and we do not think it will be very helpful for the peace process of Afghanistan.”

Of course, a breakthrough with Hekmatyar’s group would be very important, especially if it is a sign that key elements of the Taliban—and, perhaps, its backers in Pakistan—are angling for a deal.

Encouragingly, the U.S. State Department hasn’t slammed the talks, saying only that it hopes that something good comes out of them. Said P.J. Crowley, the spokesman for the State Department:

“We continue to support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect human rights of their fellow citizens. We are not saying they are a good thing or a bad thing. The real question is, what comes out of this.”

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