For a long time now, Obama advisers and administration officials have been repeating the idea that the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan won’t negotiate a deal because they think they’re winning.
Now, thanks to the New York Times, we know that’s not true.
The Taliban is negotiating. And from the brilliant Times piece today by Dexter Filkins, we also know that what they’re asking for isn’t unreasonable. Here’s the bottom line:
The first demand was an immediate pullback of American and other foreign forces to their bases, followed by a cease-fire and a total withdrawal from the country over the next 18 months. Then the current government would be replaced by a transitional government made up of a range of Afghan leaders, including those of the Taliban and other insurgents. Americans and other foreign soldiers would be replaced with a peacekeeping force drawn from predominantly Muslim nations, with a guarantee from the insurgent groups that they would not attack such a force. Nationwide elections would follow after the Western forces left.
If that’s what the Taliban asking for, then the Taliban and the Dreyfuss Report are in precise agreement. Not on philosophy, of course. I hate the Taliban and everything they stand for. But it’s time for a deal.
Unless you think that sending Zal Khalilzad to Afghanistan to run the country as President Karzai’s CEO is a good idea. (If you think that’s a good idea, then maybe you’d propose sending Richard Perle to be Iraq’s CEO, Douglas Feith to be Israel’s CEO, and — why not? — pick a neoconservative to be king of Saudi Arabia, too. King Michael Ledeen? None of these ideas are stupider than Khalilzad as Afghan CEO.)
FIlkins’ piece — which you have to read in its entirety — says that the talks involve top leaders of the Taliban and its allies, including warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, all of whom have had representatives involves in talks with Karzai et al.:
While the talks have been under way for months, they have accelerated since Mr. Obama took office….
The talks under way now appear to be directed not at individual bands of antigovernment insurgents — the strategy suggested by President Obama — but at the leaders of the large movements.
And Karzai’s spokesman officially endorsed the talks:
Afghan officials said they welcomed the talks. “The government has kept all channels of communication open,” said Homayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai. “This includes the Taliban and Hekmatyar.”
There’s no question that such talks are difficult. But the Times piece underscores the vastly different approach between (1) escalating the war, sending tens of thousands more US troops in, and developing a village-by-village counterinsurgency effort, and (2) offering to exchange a pullout of US forces for a deal.
Part of the solution lies in the United States working closely with conservative, even pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s Sharif brothers, who are very close to the Saudis, have already taken the lead in setting up Taliban talks with Karzai’s brother and other Afghan officials.
Part of the solution involves persuading India, Iran, and Russia — who supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance — to accept the notion of a coalition government in Kabul. The United States might have to use some political capital with those three countries, and others, to bring them in.
But it’s clear, now, that the Obama mantra — that we can’t talk to the Taliban until we’ve gotten the upper hand militarily — is both wrong-headed and false.