US-Taliban Talks in Doha: The West’s Capitulation in Afghanistan

Published on Spiegel Online International, an analysis by Christoph Sydow, June 21, 2013 (Photo Gallery: Resigned to Afghan Corruption:  Afghanistan produces 80 percent of the opium consumed worldwide. US investigators have discovered that some of this has been transported to Central Asia via the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital – see also a single photo: Human rights groups warn that US talks aimed at getting the Taliban involved in politics could further harm women’s rights in Afghanistan).

After 12 years of war and thousands of deaths on both sides, the US and the Taliban are finally ready to talk peace. While the West hopes to smooth its withdrawal, human rights organizations forecast the return of dark times for women and minorities.  

In April 2007, Kurt Beck, then the head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), suggested that there should be a peace conference for Afghanistan that would include all of the relevant groups, including the Taliban. The idea earned him nothing but scorn. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives vented their ire, and Rangin Spanta, Afghanistan’s foreign minister at the time, went so far as to brand Beck clueless.

But now, six years later, Beck’s idea is actually being implemented. On Tuesday, the Taliban held an opening celebration for its new office in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Islamists want to host peace negotiations there with the Afghan government and the White House. Afghan President Hamid Karzai remains coy on the issue, but talks between the Taliban and the US government are supposed to kick off within the next few days.

The parties to the conflict have already been holding secret talks for some years, and representatives have also met in Germany on several occasions. But now, for the first time since the beginning of international military intervention in the Hindu Kush in 2001, the Taliban will take an official seat at the negotiation table. The extremists had refused to participate in any of the previous Afghanistan conferences, which have been held at irregular intervals.

Can there be a moderate Taliban? … //

… Emboldened Taliban Toys with Karzai: … //

… Playing the Leverage Game:

The Haqqani network, in particular, has pledged only half-hearted support for the talks. This powerful offshoot of the Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also has leverage in the form of a captured US soldier. The extremists have held Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl since 2009. They are now threatening the talks’ chances of success, and even whether they will be held, by demanding that five Afghan prisoners be released from the military prison in Guantánamo Bay in exchange for Bergdawl. A Taliban spokesman in Qatar told the New York Times on Thursday that the exchange would be a way to “build bridges of confidence.” However, the paper also noted that the five Taliban members “are considered to be among the most senior militants at Guantánamo and would otherwise be among the last in line to leave.”

On the Taliban side, the efforts toward dialogue would presumably be led by the so-called Quetta Shura. This body, which operates mainly from Pakistan, is viewed as the political leadership of the Taliban movement. It is reportedly still headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the very man that the US and the Afghan Northern Alliance drove from power in Kabul in 2001.
It’s possible that Omar might be back in power before long. The negotiations aim to form a new Afghan government with the Taliban as part of it. In return for official political recognition, Karzai and US President Barack Obama demand that the Taliban profess allegiance to the Afghan constitution of 2004. But the Islamists only recognize a 1,300-year-old document as their constitution: the Koran. This, of course, makes it difficult to find a compromise.

Pakistan will play a decisive role in determining whether the talks bear fruit. The government and the military in Islamabad, and particularly the ISI military intelligence service, continue to exert a major degree of influence on the Taliban. Pakistan has repeatedly declared that its “legitimate interests in Afghanistan” must continue to be protected even after the ISAF troops withdraw. As a result, the talks in Doha will only lead to a breakthrough if Afghanistan’s powerful neighbor is satisfied with its outcome.
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Links:

Statement by Julian Assange after One Year in Ecuadorian Embassy, on Dissident Voice, by Julian Assange, June 22, 2013;

NSA leak fallout: LIVE UPDATES, on Russia Today RT, June 23, 2013.

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