From our partners at The Agonist
Richard Norton-Taylor | September 10
The Guardian – Academics who conducted private talks with Taliban say senior figures believe war in Afghanistan is not winnable
A belief that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and fear of a future civil war has persuaded Taliban leaders of the merits of a ceasefire, power-sharing and a political deal, according to a group of experts and academics who conducted private talks with senior Taliban figures.
Two former Taliban ministers, a former mujahideen commander and an Afghan mediator with experience of negotiating with the Taliban spent between three and five hours in individual discussions with professors Anatol Lieven, Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri of King’s College London and Michael Semple of Harvard.
Separately, Matt Waldman, a former key UN official in Kabul involved in promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Afghanistan, has told the Guardian: “It would be a grave mistake to assume the Taliban would settle for nothing less than absolute power.”
At a press briefing on Monday on their report published by the Royal United Services Institute, Lieven and his colleagues painted a picture of a pragmatic Taliban leadership around Mullah Omar.
Why it’s time for talks with the Taliban
The Taliban may not be as inflexible as feared. But we won’t discover what they’d settle for until there is genuine dialogue
The Guardian Comment Is Free, By Mark Waldman, September 10
We should welcome the news that the Taliban are reportedly open to the idea of negotiating a general ceasefire and even a peace settlement. The peace process in Afghanistan is at risk from spoilers on all sides and fraught with challenges. But we owe it to the Afghan people, and to all those who have suffered in the conflict, to give it a try.
It would be a grave mistake to assume the Taliban would only settle for absolute power. Taliban leaders know they stand no chance of seizing power now or in the near future. They know that even coming close would reinvigorate and potentially augment the coalition of forces ranged against them. That could trigger a civil war, which they are anxious to avoid. Even if they could seize power, they would be pounded by drones, ostracised and dependent on Pakistan. The leadership craves the opposite: safety, recognition and independence.
Last month Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, said: “The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations and mutual interactions with the world … [and] assures all the world that it will not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one.” Or simply, we won’t shelter al-Qaida again. We might not take his word for it, but it suggests there’s a basis for discussion.
The Taliban are not monolithic; its fighters have varied motivations. Many fight because they believe the US seeks to conquer Afghanistan and subvert its religion or culture. Some are driven by the predation and degeneracy of the Afghan government and its warlord allies. Still others fight for personal, local or tribal reasons.
There are undoubtedly extreme elements within the movement. The Haqqani group, responsible for some of the most gruesome attacks in Kabul, is due to be designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the US.
The new study by the Royal United Services Institute suggests the Taliban might even accept a ceasefire and the presence of US forces in a peacekeeping capacity. There are a range of interpretations of sharia within the movement. It may be that the Taliban’s position on issues such as the constitution or girls’ education is not as radical or inflexible as we fear.
Sections of Taliban ready to accept US presence in Afghanistan – report
Moderates say they can see no prospect of victory so are prepared to negotiate – but not with the Karzai government
The Guardian, By Julian Borger, September 9
Some senior Taliban figures are ready to negotiate a ceasefire and might be ready to accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive peace deal, according to a report to be published on Monday based on interviews with Taliban officials and negotiators.
The report, published by the Royal United Services Institute, finds that the Taliban is determined to make a decisive break with al-Qaida as part of a settlement and is open to negotiation about education for girls, but is adamantly opposed to the constitution which it sees as a prop for President Hamid Karzai’s government.
The Taliban insurgents will not negotiate with the Karzai government largely because of its record of corruption. They do not trust Kabul to run fair elections, which suggests that, even if the moderates interviewed in the study prevailed within Taliban circles, serious obstacles to a peace deal would remain.
The institute’s report, entitled Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation, is the product of interviews with four unnamed figures, two of whom were ministers in the former Taliban government and are still close to the inner circle of leadership. One is described as being “closely associated” with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. A third is portrayed as “a senior former mujahideen commander and lead negotiator for the Taliban”, although not part of the movement itself, and the fourth is said to be “an Afghan mediator with extensive experience negotiating with the Taliban”.
The report concludes: “The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire as part of a general settlement, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures and the core issue of the distribution of political power in Afghanistan.
“A ceasefire would require strong Islamic justification, obscuring any hint of surrender,” it adds.