Mehmet Ali writes from Kabul: The Taliban and Kabul government representatives are meeting in Paris to discuss whether there’s any point in talking to each other. Optimists hope that this is the prelude to peace negotiations. The reality is that such talks are some way off. The Taliban are to open an office in Doha, Qatar, and the government in Kabul has said that it will regard it as the official point of contact. At some point in the future.
The Taliban have always insisted that they speak directly to the Americans as they regard President Hamid Karzai’s regime as a mere US puppet. So why are the Americans talking at all to the people they had removed from power in 2001? Well, the Afghan insurgency has been going on for almost 12 years now. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. They obliged men to grow beards, women to cover themselves in the burqa, banned music and cut all connection to the outside world. They are now proposing a new constitution that guarantees civil rights, the protection of women from violence and even mentions that women have rights. Well, all one can say is that they have learned a lot from their experience in government. They have also taken on board Western human rights and democratic vocabulary.
It would be a bitter pill for the Americans to swallow to meet the Taliban head on and be told that they have wasted over 2,000 American lives and enough wealth to feed the hungry of the world. Another Vietnam in fact.
Elections of a new Afghan President are due next year and the word is that Pakistan will have a say in who is elected. There has been a lot of movement back and forth between Islamabad and Kabul over the last six months. There is no doubt that Pakistan would like to see the Taliban mutate from being a terrorist-military organisation into a political grouping. That would require a ceasefire before serious negotiations could get under way. How much influence does Islamabad have over the Taliban? The word is that the Taliban believe they are winning the war and are eyeing winning the peace. Pakistan will play a secondary role in this. The Taliban have powerful outside allies: Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They all favour an Islamist regime in Kabul.
NATO has curtailed some joint exercises with the Afghan army. It is quite clear that the Taliban have the power to penetrate right to the centre of NATO’s position in the country. It is increasingly dangerous for private US contractors to operate there. We are now approaching a situation when a weak Kabul government and President, faced with coalition combat forces withdrawing in 2014, will have to make concessions to the Taliban. The best that President Karzai can hope for is that he can broker a power sharing agreement. The problem with this is that it resembles the tactics adopted by communists in Eastern Europe after 1945. They used salami tactics to slice up the opposition. It is difficult to see Karzai and his successors putting up much of a fight. If eventual Taliban control of Afghanistan is inevitable, then an interim power sharing agreement is a small price to pay to halt the bloodshed.