When President Karzai of Afghanistan arrives in Washington next Wednesday, will President Obama applaud Karzai’s efforts to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban, or will he tell the Afghanistan president to sit down, shut up, and remember that he’s supposed to behave like a U.S.-installed puppet?
Lately, Karzai has been decidedly un-puppetlike. After meeting Obama at the end of March in Kabul, Karzai unleashed a series of angry, frustrated outbursts that included his only-partly-in-jest threat to join the Taliban. He also accused Washington of trying to undermine his efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. And he’s scheduled a jirga, or council, for later this month to unite Afghan society – tribes, clerics, warlords – in support of a political approach to the Taliban leadership.
The United States is not amused. American policy is, as I wrote in an article for Rolling Stone, to shoot first and ask questions later, i.e., to deal the Taliban a series of punishing blows in the hope that Mullah Mohammed Omar, or at least some leaders of the Taliban, will come to the bargaining table. On this, I’m with Karzai: it’s time to talk to the Taliban now, not later.
Usefully enough, in today’s New York Times there’s an important story that draws on leaks from the ongoing “interrogation” of Mullah Baradur, the Taliban’s No. 2 official, who was seized by Pakistan’s ISI and the CIA last January. (What the Times account leaves out is that Baradur was deeply involved in talks with Karzai and with United Nations officials about a peace deal, and he may have even planned to attend Karzai’s jirga. By arresting him, Pakistan undermined that negotiation, and the ISI made it clear that if there is any deal to be had in Afghanistan, it – the ISI – wants to be in charge.)
According to the Times, Baradur is providing the United States with a “nuanced understanding of the strategy that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.”
Pakistan, adds the Times, has “tried to turn his arrest to their advantage and are poised to use him as a chip in bargaining between the Afghan government and the Taliban and, conceivably, even as a negotiator.”
“The Taliban would be ready to negotiate but under our own conditions,” a member of the Afghan Taliban’s supreme command said in an interview. “To assume that they would hold the Taliban leadership hostage because of Mullah Baradar’s arrest is not something that would cross our mind.”
On Monday, the Washington Post carried a story that said that Karzai’s chief objective during his Washington visit is to get American support for talks with the Taliban: