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Taliban Talks: After The Hype, The Pullback
Posted by on October 25th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Last week, the media was full of stenography of the official narrative that the awesomely Saintly General Petareus and his surge(tm) were forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table and the insurgency was in its last throes, with success just around the corner etc. etc.

That was until various observers (myself included) suggested that the official narrative was…how to put this…bullshit.

The idea appears to be that officials are saying that the surge is forcing the Taliban to the table in the hope of convincing the Taliban that it is true, and panicking them into making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem there, of course, is that if the ploy doesn't work then it undermines official credibility, the surge and any negotiation track all at the same time.

Richard Holbrooke appears to have realised this and is doing some pullback on the official happy-talk about talks while still trying to keep to the original narrative of surge success. His efforts are less than successful.

Meetings between Afghan leadership and Taliban figures are ongoing, but the two sides are nowhere near a peace deal and in fact are not even to the point of negotiating one, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke said Sunday.

"I think the press has left the impression that negotiations of the type which ultimately ended the war in Vietnam in 1973 and ultimately ended the war in Bosnia in 1995 are somehow breaking out. That is just not the case," he said on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria show Sunday morning.

"What we've got here is an increasing number of Taliban at high levels saying, hey, we want to talk," Holbrooke explained. "I think this is a result, in large part, of the growing pressure they're under from General Petraeus and the ISAF command."

Holbrooke was adamant that — whatever talks are taking place between the government of President Hamid Karzai and leaders of some of the insurgent groups — it should not be called a "negotiation."

Huh? High level Taliban want to talk, because of Petraeus' awesome surge, but there's no actual talks that could be called a "negotiation" going on? Why the hell not? Who is dragging their feet? If the Taliban want to talk and Karzai obviously wants to talk then we're left only with the US and its Western allies as the party poopers.

Or is it the case that Petraeus' awesome surge isn't all that awesome after all, that Karzai and the Taliban are talking anyway and the US is being frozen out to the point where it doesn't know for sure what both are aiming for?

Enquiring minds want to know.

P.S. Here's a gem of messaging #fail from Holbrooke:

There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy," he said. "So the idea of peace talks, to use your phrase, or negotiations, to use another phrase, doesn't really add up to the way this thing is going to evolve."

Right there is your very definition of mission creep - "a widely dispersed group of people" that we've labelled as collectively "the enemy" in the hope no-one notices they're a widely dispersed group of people. Whatever happened to Obama's insistence that Al Qaeda was the enemy? 

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