White House officials, after months of private talks and negotiations, just announced its support of direct talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the 12-year-old war that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political movement that ruled in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban state was recognized by only three countries and was condemned worldwide for its brutal treatment of women, its strict interpretation of religious law, and its destruction of anything seen as a Western (read corrupting) influence.
If peace talks happen, they could lead to a reduction in fighting across Afghanistan, according to a senior Afghan official. “We hope that the attacks carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan will reduce while we talk peace; there is no point in talking if the bombs continue to kill civilians,” he added.
The US announcement followed Afghan President Karzai’s announcement in Kabul that negotiations would take place. The agreement to seek peace talks came on Taliban leaders agreed that Afghanistan would no longer be a safe haven for groups planning or conducting terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies, said senior White House officials.
Can the Taliban Divorce Itself from Al Qaeda?
One has to wonder if it is even possible for the Taliban to divorce itself from al Qaeda. I mean, Taliban leaders can say what they want, even perhaps believe that they want such a separation. But how do they divorce years of soldier-to-soldier relationships and enforce such separation? These people live in some of the most remote and unserviceable areas anywhere in the world. Saying it is one thing, doing it will prove to be quite another.
For the moment, don’t expect the Taliban to boot al Qaeda from the wagon train. The tribal relationships and intricate societal demands in Afghanistan make this a lot more complex than just getting people to agree. In fact, getting agreement may be the easy part. Actually putting in place policy that everyone will follow seems almost impossible at times, given the serpentine complexities of the region.
“We’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that distances themselves from [international terrorism], but made clear we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” said one White House official. He added that today’s action should be considered a first step and nothing near what the US will be requiring of them by the end of the process.
Karzai also announced in Kabul on Tuesday that Afghan forces are assuming the lead for security nationwide from the U.S.-led NATO forces. The U.S. and NATO mission is slated to wrap up by December 2014 though the White House and Pentagon have made clear there will be some forces remaining behind to continue support of the Afghan military.
Will the Afghan security force be able to enforce the law and keep the country secure? That remains to be seen. But the size of the Afghan National Security Forces has dramatically increased as it nears taking over national security. Just six years ago Afghan security forces numbered 40,000 men and women; today they are about 352,000.
Coalition troops are scheduled to move to an entirely supporting role—mostly training and mentoring. In emergency situations, the contingency plan is for US troops to provide backup to the Afghans in combat, mostly in the form of airstrikes and medical evacuations.
The question just about everyone is asking themselves is whether these security forces will remain loyal to the Karzai government. I can’t imagine any way to know other than waiting and see.