Sunday 21 March 2010

So many negotiations, so many leaders

So let's recap: on Friday former UN representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told the BBC that he had been in contact with key Taliban leaders since last spring, but that the recent arrest of Taliban leaders in Pakistan had closed an important secret channel of communications.
In particular, he claimed that the arrest of Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar in Pakistan was aimed at disrupting the negotiations.
Then on Friday, Mr Eide's former deputy, Peter Galbraith, with whom he had a very public bust-up over the UN's lack of action over election fraud last September, came out to say that Eide was exaggerating his own role:
"He was not meeting with senior Taliban leaders," said Galbraith, who was Eide's close friend until Eide fired him for raising questions about the massive election fraud perpetrated by President Hamid Karzai's government last September. "He's greatly exaggerating."
Galbraith added that he was aware of the meetings mentioned by Eide but did not participate in them and that they were with lower-level people who may or may not have had ties to the Taliban.
"The meetings were not particularly often and it was never clear where these people stood and what their connections were to the Taliban," he said, suggesting they might have been disgruntled former Taliban associates.
Galbraith also rejected Eide's contention that the recent arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders by the Pakistani military was the reason the talks broke down, as Eide claims.
Also on Friday, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, came out against Eide, saying that he was "extremely gratified" by the arrest of Mullah Barodar and other key Taliban leaders. He said the arrests brought “more pressure” on the Taliban than before and the move was “good for the military operation” in Afghanistan.
At the same time, Dawn newspaper reported that an official Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousaf Ahmadi, also denied that Eide had been involved in meaningful negotiations:
“We don’t know what objective Mr Eide wants to achieve by telling such lies. The Taliban held no negotiations with Kai Eide or any other UN official,” said Ahmadi.
Asked if the Taliban had held talks with Saudi Arabia or any other country, the spokesman said: “No, there is no change in our stance.”
The Afghan Islamic Press is also reporting that Agha Jan Motasim, Mullah Omar's son-in-law, who was also arrested in Pakistan recently, had been dismissed by the Taliban seven months ago for holding talks without permission from the leadership. The agency said it had been told that Agha Mutasim held no post in the Taliban at the time of his arrest in Karachi last month.
So what is going on?
Is it possibile that there are numerous contacts taking place? The Taliban elements that had been meeting secretly with Eide seems to be the least important and that is why everyone has dismissed his claims as exaggerated.
But the Barodar group is much more significant. Mutasim was part of this group and the fact that he was thrown out of the Taliban - despite his close connection to Mullah Omar - must mean that his role in negotiations had been discovered and disapproved of by the leadership. And then it would have only been a matter of time before the hardliners realised that there was a faction around Barodar that was open to discussions with Karzai. Once discovered, then clearly their lives would be in danger.
In this context it makes sense for the Pakistani authorities to 'arrest' them - and protect their lives. They will undoubtedly have a role to play in the near future.
Holbrooke is right to say that the remaining Taliban leadership - now dispersed and finding it hard to communicate - will be under much more pressure than before, particularly as the Coalition military campaign continues to gather pace in Helmand and Kandahar.
US military planners are clearly happy with the way things are at present. They want the Taliban to be as weak as possible before negotiations begin. That is why they are now intent on driving Taliban fighters from towns like Marjah and also securing Kandahar. They are also doing their utmost to break the back of the Islamists in Pakistan's tribal areas by hitting them with drone missiles at every opportunity.
And the results are showing. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is now almost leaderless and reduced to conducting bloody bombings that kill more civilians than soldiers, while al-Qaeda's ranks have been severely weakened with the killing of a number of very experienced operatives in recent raids. At the same time there are signs that Pakistan's love affair with extreme Islam is beginning to wane. On Saturday, for example, around 700 Pashtun tribesmen gathered in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and pledged themselves to destroy the militants plagueing their lands.
Negotiations will come, but not just yet.

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