Foreign Policy Blogs

New York Times on Taliban Peace Pessimism

As a follow-up to my piece from last week about reasons to be pessimistic about success in peace talks with the Taliban, read today’s New York Times article on the topic.  This sentence about the Taliban negotiators really says it all:

The identities of the Taliban leaders are being withheld by The New York Times at the request of the White House and an Afghan who has taken part in the discussions. The Afghan official said that identifying the men could result in their deaths or detention at the hands of rival Taliban commanders or the Pakistani intelligence agents who support them.

Here’s the take of a man the Times calls a “Pakistani cleric close to the Quetta shura and the Haqqani leadership”:

“The problem is, they want to exclude Mullah Omar,” the cleric said. “If you exclude him, then there cannot be any talks at all.”

And here’s what one Pakistani security official said of talks involving one member of the Quetta shura:

“He’s useless,” the Pakistani security officer said of the Taliban leader. “This guy is not in a position to make a deal.”

And here’s what the Americans have to say about it:

For their part, American officials say they are wary of investing too much hope in the discussions. In the past, talks — or, more accurately, talks about talks — have foundered over preconditions that each side has set: for the Taliban, that the Americans must first withdraw; for the Afghan government, that the Taliban must first disarm.

Perhaps the biggest complication lies on the battlefield. As long as the Taliban believe they are winning, they do not seem likely to want to make a deal. In recent months, as the additional troops and resources ordered up by President Obama have poured in, the American military has stepped up operations against Taliban strongholds.

So far, the insurgents have shown few public signs of wanting to give up. That much was acknowledged Tuesday by the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta.

“If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored,” he said in Washington. “But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

It is certainly is worthwhile to engage in peace talks, but it might be worth considering granting some leeway on the Taliban’s major precondition.