Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh, and since I mentioned Afghanistan

NPR's show "All Things Considered" scotches the rumors that there have been peace talks between the Taliban and the government.
Last month during a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, [Fazl Hadi] Shinwari[, who is Afghanistan's senior cleric and advises President Hamid Karzai on religious and tribal affairs,] led an Afghan delegation to a dinner hosted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Shinwari and others who were at the dinner insist there were no negotiations. They say there couldn't have been any talks because no current Taliban leaders were in attendance - only former Taliban officials attended.

But Shinwari says he did deliver a petition to the Saudi king asking that he broker peace talks between the warring sides.
What's more, he says that the two sides "have no choice but to talk" and that he has been in contact with senior Taliban leaders and there is even a proposal for a meeting in Dubai. However, Karzai insists there will be no meeting without US approval.

Leaving aside the obvious "so much for national sovereignty," what is the US position?
[T]he U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined to comment.

But in a recent interview, Christopher Dell, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy, said negotiations could play a role in resolving this conflict.

"It's a brothers' war, and the brothers have to come to terms with each other," Dell says.

He says there are conditions. For one, the Taliban must lay down arms and accept the Afghan government. Secondly, talks must not hinge on power-sharing or ceding territory to the Taliban.

Dell also says anyone who is linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or who otherwise is on America's "Most Wanted" list - like Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, insurgent leaders, former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - should not take part.
Shorter Dell: The US will be willing to accept the Taliban's unconditional surrender.

Even so, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Guantanamo detainee and one of those at the dinner in Mecca,
says there are signs the Americans are softening. He points to recent comments by Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the U.S. being prepared to reconcile with the Taliban.
Of course, there may be a good reason for that: The New York Times reported earlier this month that
[a] draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The classified report finds that the breakdown in central authority in Afghanistan has been accelerated by rampant corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai and by an increase in violence by militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan.
Perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), this new National Intelligence Estimate isn't scheduled to be completed until after the November elections.

"It's your stinking pile now, suckers. Good luck!"

But yeah, a couple more combat brigades and some helicopters should serve to "accomplish the mission." Oh, here's a bit of free advice, Barack: Don't make any speeches about this from aircraft carriers.

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