20 October 2010

Talks with the Taliban getting serious

The opening paragraphs of Taliban’s Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace, an article in the 19 October edition of The New York Times, sets an interesting context for the declarations by our Prime Minister and Opposition Leader that Australia is definitely in Afghanistan for the long haul:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Talks to end the war in Afghanistan involve extensive, face-to-face discussions with Taliban commanders from the highest levels of the group’s leadership, who are secretly leaving their sanctuaries in Pakistan with the help of NATO troops, officials here say.  

The discussions, some of which have taken place in Kabul, are unfolding between the inner circle of President Hamid Karzai and members of the Quetta shura, the leadership group that oversees the Taliban war effort inside Afghanistan. Afghan leaders have also held discussions with leaders of the Haqqani network, considered to be one of the most hard-line guerrilla factions fighting here; and members of the Peshawar shura, whose fighters are based in eastern Afghanistan.

The Taliban leaders coming into Afghanistan for talks have left their havens in Pakistan on the explicit assurance that they will not be attacked or arrested by NATO forces, Afghans familiar with the talks say. Many top Taliban leaders reside in Pakistan, where they are believed to enjoy at least some official protection.

It is amazing how evil incarnate – the end of civilization as we know it – can become an acceptable negotiating proposition once the public begins to tire of the war. A war of choice indeed.

Interesting too how the Prime Minister was silent on this aspect – apart from a reference to political reconciliation – in her statement to Parliament yesterday. Is the Australian Government not quite up with the game, or is this one area where the sunlight of the new paradigm has not yet been allowed to shine?

The above reference to the Haqqani network is particularly interesting, as it has had much to do with assassination attempts within Kabul. In a post on 25 August 2009 I explained how  Jalaluddin Haqqani was once the golden-haired boy of the Americans and the Pakistani ISI, but turned against the Americans after a few months of fence-sitting following the US-led invasion, following a series of US bombing raids that killed members of his family, after which he threw his lot in with the Taliban. While allied with the Taliban, he is not of the Taliban, and has substantial financial backing from Arab and other non-Afghan jihadist groups. While Prime Minister Gillard says we are in partnership with Pakistan against Islamic extremism, the Pakistani Inters-Services Intelligence Directorate(ISI) still assists him and he operates with impunity out of Pakistan; the Pakistanis are not sure whether they can handle him in any case.  For a more detailed story on this, with some interesting links, see New York Times on Afghanistan.

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