20 November, 2006

Talking with the Taliban.

In early November, analysing the future prospects for peace in Afghanistan, I speculated that the Taliban was likely to play some sort of role in the forthcoming national jirga. It now seems that they will. According to Afghan.com, President Karzai is making conciliatory noises, offering to deal with the Afghan, not the foreign, elements in the Taliban but, as the headline puts it, sans clemency for Omar.

President Hamid Karzai has said that genuine Afghan Taliban are welcome to their country but the people will not accept non-Afghan (Taliban).

...Asked whether he would invite Taliban self-styled Amir-ul-Momineen Mulla Omar to talks, Karzai said they were ready to hold peace talks with all. At the same time, he said clemency for Omar was not possible.

For the sake of peace, we are willing to do anything," said the Afghan leader, but added that those who had committed crimes against the Afghan people in the past and were continuing to do so would have to face the courts.
Quite how NATO governments will receive a negotiated settlement involving the Taliban remains unknown but I expect they will quickly get over any political embarrassment caused by their rhetoric about defeating the Taliban. One possible outcome for the west would be that, following a negotiated settlement, the Taliban (sans Omar or not) might temporarily suspend their military campaign and sit back waiting for the last vestiges of political will in the majority of NATO governments to evaporate The wait might not be very long, requiring no more than a few suicide bombers to push NATO out of the door. Within NATO, the US, Canada and the UK would then be left even more isolated. Indeed, given rising domestic opposition to British, Canadian and even American military involvement it might prove politically impossible for those governments to continue with any policy based on military intervention. Such an outcome would be a defeat for the coalition and a remarkable victory for the Taliban.

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