Gestures of openness are common practice among some of Washington’s allies in Afghanistan, notably the Dutch, who make negotiating with the Taliban an explicit part of their military policy.
The German government is officially against negotiations, but some members of the governing coalition have suggested Berlin host talks with the Taliban.
MI-6, Britain’s external security service, has held secret talks with the Taliban up to half a dozen times. At the local level, the British cut a deal, appointing a former Taliban leader as a district chief in Helmand province in exchange for security guarantees.
Senior British officers involved with the Afghan mission have confirmed that direct contact with the Taliban has led to insurgents changing sides as well as rivals in the Taliban movement providing intelligence which has led to leaders being killed or captured.
British authorities hold that there are distinct differences between different “tiers” of the Taliban and that it is essential to try to separate the doctrinaire extremists from others who are fighting for money or because they resent the presence of foreign forces in their country.
British contacts with the Taliban have occurred despite British Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly ruling out such talks; on one occasion he told the House of Commons: “We will not enter into any negotiations with these people.”
For months there have been repeated reports of “good Taliban” forces being airlifted by Western helicopters from one part of Afghanistan to another to protect them from Afghan or Pakistani military forces. At an October 11 news conference in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai himself claimed that “some unidentified helicopters dropped armed men in the northern provinces at night.”
On November 2, IslamOnline.net (Qatar) reported: “The emboldened Taliban movement in Afghanistan turned down an American offer of power-sharing in exchange for accepting the presence of foreign troops, Afghan government sources confirmed. ‘US negotiators had offered the Taliban leadership through Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil (former Taliban foreign minister) that if they accept the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan, they would be given the governorship of six provinces in the south and northeast … America wants eight army and air force bases in different parts of Afghanistan in order to tackle the possible regrouping of [the] Al-Qaeda network,’ a senior Afghan Foreign Ministry official told IslamOnline.net.”
There has been no confirmation of this from American officials, but the New York Times on October 28 listed six provinces that were being considered to receive priority protection from the US military, five which are amongst the eight mentioned in the IslamOnline report as being planned for US military bases, although no mention is made in the Times of the above-mentioned offer. The next day, Asia Times reported: “The United States has withdrawn its troops from its four key bases in Nuristan [or Nooristan], on the border with Pakistan, leaving the northeastern province as a safe haven for the Taliban-led insurgency to orchestrate its regional battles.” Nuristan, where earlier in the month eight US soldiers were killed and three Apache helicopters hit by hostile fire, is one of the six provinces offered to the Taliban as reported in the IslamOnline.net story.
The part about al-Qaeda is ambiguous and questionable, not only because the term has long been loosely used as a catch-all for any group or individual in opposition to US foreign policy in this part of the world, but also because the president’s own national security adviser, former Marine Gen. James Jones, stated in early October: “I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling. The al-Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”
Shortly after Jones’s remarks, we could read in the Wall Street Journal:
“Hunted by U.S. drones, beset by money problems and finding it tougher to lure young Arabs to the bleak mountains of Pakistan, al-Qaida is seeing its role shrink there and in Afghanistan, according to intelligence reports and Pakistan and U.S. officials. … For Arab youths who are al-Qaida’s primary recruits, ‘it’s not romantic to be cold and hungry and hiding,’ said a senior U.S. official in South Asia.”
From all of the above is it not reasonable to conclude that the United States is willing and able to live with the Taliban, as repulsive as their social philosophy is? Perhaps even a Taliban state which would go across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been talked about in some quarters. What then is Washington fighting for? What moves the president of the United States to sacrifice so much American blood and treasure? In past years, US leaders have spoken of bringing democracy to Afghanistan, liberating Afghan women, or modernizing a backward country. President Obama made no mention of any of these previous supposed vital goals in his December 1 speech. He spoke only of the attacks of September 11, al Qaeda, the Taliban, terrorists, extremists, and such, symbols guaranteed to fire up an American audience. Yet, the president himself declared at one point: “Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border.” Ah yes, the terrorist danger … always, everywhere, forever, particularly when it seems the weakest.
How many of the West Point cadets, how many Americans, give thought to the fact that Afghanistan is surrounded by the immense oil reserves of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea regions? Or that Afghanistan is ideally situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of Europe and south Asia, lines that can deliberately bypass non-allies of the empire, Iran and Russia? If only the Taliban will not attack the lines. “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south …”, said Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in 2007.