The ‘let’s negotiate with the Taliban’ crowd in Washington and Europe must be fighting off a major case of depression today after reading this report at The New York Times. An excerpt:
With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.
The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement. Military and diplomatic officials here and in Washington said that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left.
“I don’t see it happening in the next couple years,” said a senior coalition officer. He and a number of other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the effort to open talks.
“It’s a very resilient enemy, and I’m not going to tell you it’s not,” the officer said. “It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years.”
And so yet another pillar of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan strategy collapses.
You can be sure the short knives will be out to cast blame on one party or another for sabotaging the negotiation efforts (the NYT report lists two villains: Congressional opposition to freeing five al Qaeda-linked Taliban leaders; and the ‘moderate’ political wing of the Taliban being outmaneuvered by the radical ‘military’ wing).
But the Taliban were never serious about negotiations to begin with. I’ve long argued that the US truly had little idea as to the real intentions of the power brokers within the Taliban, and often were talking to former Taliban wannabes attempting to peddle influence (like Mutawakil and Zaeef), or in one case, a Taliban impostor. Additionally, I’ve pointed out that there has been no split between al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Taliban were never willing to renounce the terror group and turn over its leaders.
Finally, I’m going to refer you to something I wrote in June 2011 on the issue of the ‘surge’ and its purported ability to batter the Taliban to the negotiating table. The apparent lack of will evidenced by a halfhearted, time-limited surge, combined with the availability of safe havens in Pakistan, gave the Taliban no compelling reason to abandon the fight:
Regardless, it is curious that top US and NATO leaders believe that they can carry out high-level talks with the likes of Mullah Omar, as if the setbacks they have experienced the past year have been far worse than what the Taliban experienced during the US invasion in 2001-2002. The Taliban survived that onslaught, fled to Pakistan, regrouped and refitted, and pushed back into Afghanistan with a vengeance.
The US and NATO have already signaled that they want out of Afghanistan, and will begin the drawdown over the next several years. Even with the US pressure in Helmand and Kandahar the past year, the Taliban still control vast areas of the east and north, as well as pockets in the south. The Afghan security forces are far from ready to take control. The Taliban still have safe haven and state support in Pakistan. Regardless of the Taliban’s losses in the past year, they are still in a far better position than they were in late 2002.
If you are interested, you can peruse the following Long War Journal and Threat Matrix articles on supposed negotiations with the Taliban:
- Oct. 7, 2008 – Taliban have not split from al Qaeda: sources
- Oct. 14, 2008 – Taliban mock West for calling Afghanistan unwinnable
- March 6, 2009 – Taliban deny reports of negotiations with Afghan government
- Nov. 23, 2009 – More talk of Taliban talks
- Nov. 26, 2009 – Mullah Omar rejects negotiations
- Jan. 27, 2010 – Taliban talks and Groundhog Day
- Jan. 28, 2010 – Hamid Gul on Taliban negotiations
- Jan. 31, 2010 – The Taliban on General McChrystal and negotiations
- Nov. 15, 2010 – Mullah Omar rejects reports of peace talks, highlights Taliban strategy
- Nov. 23, 2010 – NATO, Afghan officials negotiated with Taliban ‘impostor’
- March 17, 2011 – Afghan peace council reportedly seeks talks with Taliban commanders held at Gitmo
- June 19, 2011 – Is the US really negotiating with the Afghan Taliban?
- Dec. 19, 2011 – Taliban seek freedom for dangerous Guantanamo detainees
- Jan 3, 2012 – Taliban releases statement on negotiations
- Feb. 15, 2012 – Taliban expand list of demands, refuse to denounce ‘international terrorism’
- Feb. 29, 2012 – Taliban claim CIA ‘fabricated’ truce letter from Mullah Omar
- March 15, 2012 – Taliban suspend ‘dialogue’ with US