Foreign Policy Blogs

Mullah Omar Delivers Strategic Message Before Eid

On the occasion of Eid, the celebration at the end of the month of Ramadan, Mullah Omar declared the Taliban are willing to deal politically with the U.S and President Karzai’s government Kabul. The Taliban leader let it be known that even though he is now principally interested in a workable prisoner swap, in the long run he is ready to work in good faith with the other side of the bargaining table to achieve his ultimate political goals.  This is a tremendously important development because this means the Taliban are openly inviting the specter of ending the conflict in Afghanistan on political terms.

Recent reportage on leaks on secret high level U.S and Taliban talks suggests that those negotiations that many thought have been going well, are off. President Hamid Karzai is said to have been behind the concerted effort to bring down the talks this past June.  This news has caused many analysts to worry that the best hope for a settled peace in Afghanistan has slipped past the NATO allies.

Ahmed Rashid, the noted Pakistani journalist, in a new piece for the New York Review of Books, claims otherwise. He asserts the talks are going well despite the leaks. For the leaks were meant to derail the talks. That is, chatter about the negotiations had been designed to ultimately and finally scuttle any progress behind the scenes to get the Taliban and their U.S. and NATO opponents to see eye to eye. Rashid insists that the talks are ongoing despite interference from Kabul. If true, this is a significant development.

Here’s Rashid’s view on the matter, at length:

By acknowledging that there have been contacts with the Americans, Mullah Omar is sending a clear message to his fighters that future political talks are a possibility, while signaling to the Americans that he may eventually be prepared to broaden the scope of the dialogue and those already participating in it.”

He categorically accepts that “all” ethnic groups “will have participation” in governing Afghanistan in the future and tries to play down the position taken by some non-Pashtuns in the former Northern Alliance that they will never negotiate with the Taliban. He opposes long-term US bases in Afghanistan and does not accept a limited withdrawal of US-NATO troops; he wants the US and NATO to “immediately” withdraw all their forces. He hopes to be at peace with his neighbors and the world, he writes, and he will do nothing to aggravate tensions. But the Taliban will not accept an imposed regime and they demand complete independence for Afghanistan. (This is as much a message to Pakistan as it is to the US.)”

Mullah Omar’s message is as much about strategy as it is strategic. He is signaling that he is willing to play politics in multidimensional political space with numerous partners and opponents if certain conditions are met. This isn’t a bad start, nor is it necessarily a cheap signal. The Taliban might have been weakened over the course of the 30,000 soldier surge into Southern Afghanistan (analysts still debate the truth of the matter) and perhaps above and beyond rhetoric, he is demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops to get the pressure off his back. Therefore if talks are ongoing this means that the U.S are willing to deal on terms that may well favor Mullah Omar.

But whatever the truth of the matter in on the negotiations, rhetoric matters. Mullah Omar envisions a politics for Afghanistan for Afghans. He is against long-term U.S. bases, which are now being gamed out in more docile parts of the country. He is against U.S. puppet-mastery. Omar is signaling that he is willing to work with Karzai in Kabul, though he could do without Karzai in or out of power. The U.S. political leadership would do well to heed this rhetoric, for it is a rhetoric that is shared by a large majority of Afghans.

No doubt the U.S negotiators have extended to the Taliban more than they might admit publicly. Indeed, many in Afghanistan claim that immediate withdrawal out of Afghanistan is one of the most important requirements for halting conflict there. Therefore, as such any movement toward or away from that position will trigger a meaningful signal for how the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan will turn.

The Karzai government for its part seems disinclined to sit aside by the sidelines. Many analysts have claimed that he (or someone in his executive team) is responsible for the June leaks that arrested the high-level U.S – Taliban talks. Yet, Karzai is term limited out. One wonders what stake he has in seeing talks fail since any settled negotiations are likely to be finalized many years after he leaves office. One wonders whether he still has a dog in the race: does he intend to hold onto power for the longer term?

There is no doubt that Karzai wants peace with the Taliban on his own terms, whatever Mullah Omar declares. Does Karzai want that peace won and delivered on those terms because he expects to be in power well after the scheduled 2014 drawdown.

 

Author

Faheem Haider
Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link: http://blackandwhiteandthings.wordpress.com

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