Taliban talks and Groundhog Day

The media are atwitter over the prospects of negotiations with the Taliban. Secret talks with high-level Taliban leaders, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s son, were held in the Maldives recently. (The Afghan government and the Coalition have been trying to cut a deal with Hekmatyar since 2002, and have come away empty each time. Hekmatyar, by the way, is best known in Afghanistan for throwing acid in schoolgirls’ faces and shelling Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal.)

The London Conference tomorrow will focus on a renewed effort at negotiations in an attempt to split the Taliban and get large segments of the group off the battlefield and back into the farm fields. Lots of money is sure to be thrown around. Yesterday, five ‘Taliban leaders’ were removed from the United Nations terrorist sanctions list. Here are the names of the ‘Taliban leaders’ removed from the list, via Geo News.

The five officials removed from the UN list are Abdul Wakil Mutawakil, who was foreign minister under the now ousted Taliban regime; Faiz Mohammad Faizan, a former deputy commerce minister; Shams-US-Safa, a former foreign ministry official; Mohammad Musa, a deputy planning minister; and Abdul Hakim, a former deputy frontier affairs minister.

While the removal of these five individuals from the list is being held up as a major sign of reconciliation, that is not the case. These are five ‘Taliban leaders’ who have already reconciled with the government. Abdul Hakim is the current governor of Uruzgan province. Mutawakil has propped himself up as an influential Taliban broker. He served as the Taliban’s foreign minister in 2001 and broke ranks after Omar refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. He surrendered to US forces in 2002 and has repeatedly tried to negotiate peace agreements.

But the Taliban consider Mutawakil and his allies to be stooges of the Afghan government, and say so often. See this report from March 2009, or these reports from October 2008.

The negotiations with the Taliban have a certain Ground Hog Day feel to them. Every year or so, the Afghan government wakes up and tries to cut a deal with people who are characterized as the top Taliban leaders, only to be rebuffed by the real Taliban leaders. As a bonus, the meetings are used by the Taliban as evidence of Western weakness.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Andrew R. says:

    Hekmatyar’s a snake and utterly untrustworthy. Which means that, distasteful as it is, he’s the perfect sort of person that you could possibly, with the right incentives, get him to sell out Mullah Omar and company.
    And weren’t there back-channel talks going on with mid- and low-level nationalist/Ba’ath insurgents for most of 2004-6 before a lot of the lower level folks decided to switch sides? It seems like it’s useful to have these channels open so that once we’ve got 100k troops in country and can put more pressure on, we’ve got the numbers of folks we can tell, “Okay, let’s talk.”


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