US abandoning hopes for Taliban peace deal: report
03 October, 2012
KABUL: The American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war in Afghanistan: battering the Taliban into a peace deal, reports The New York Times (NYT).
The admission comes as the surge of American troops in the war-ravaged country is over and the Taliban still pose a potent threat. The report says the once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement.
The NYT quotes military and diplomatic officials in Afghanistan and Washington as saying that despite attempts to engage directly with Taliban leaders this year, they now expect that any significant progress will come only after 2014, once the bulk of NATO troops have left. "I don't see it happening in the next couple years," the report cites a senior coalition officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's a very resilient enemy, and I'm not going to tell you it's not," the officer said, adding, "It will be a constant battle, and it will be for years."
The failure to broker meaningful talks with the Taliban underscores the fragility of the gains claimed during the surge of American troops ordered by President Obama in 2009, the NYT comments. It further says that the 30,000 extra troops won back territory held by the Taliban, but by nearly all estimates failed to deal a crippling blow.
Among America's commanding generals in Afghanistan, from Stanley A McChrystal and David H Petraeus to today's John R Allen, it has been an oft-repeated mantra that the United States is not going to kill its way out of Afghanistan. They said that the Afghanistan war, like most insurgencies, could only end with a negotiation. The report says now American officials say they have reduced their goals further — to patiently laying the groundwork for eventual peace talks after they leave.
It quotes American officials as saying they hope that the Taliban will find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a "puppet" government. The United States has not given up on talks before that time. It agreed last month to set up a committee with Pakistan that would vet potential new Taliban interlocutors, and the Obama administration is considering whether to revive a proposed prisoner swap with the insurgents that would, officials hope, reopen preliminary discussions that collapsed in March, current and former American officials are quoted as saying by the NYC. Those are both seen as long-term efforts, however.
The report cites American officials saying that bringing Pakistan into the search for Taliban contacts is also an uncertain strategy. The details of the new vetting committee have yet to be worked out, and "if we are depending on Pakistan, it comes with an asterisk," one of the officials said. "We never know whether they will see it through."
In Washington, "the tone of the whole discussion has shifted to a less US-led approach and toward a more Afghan-led approach, but one that will be over a longer term," the NYT cites Shamila N Chaudhary, a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group who served as the director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the National Security Council.
The prospects for direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are even murkier. Maulvi Qalanmudin, a former Taliban minister who now sits on the High Peace Council, dismissed the notion that the Taliban will never talk to the Afghan government. "They will continue saying that until the day they sit at the negotiating table," said Qalanmudin, who once ran the Taliban's notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. However, Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban military commander who lives in Kabul, said he had been asked by the High Peace Council to carry proposals for direct talks to the Taliban and was rebuffed. "They said, 'Reconcile with this corrupt government? Reconcile with this?' I had no answer."