Why NATO and the Taliban are stepping up the fight - even as talks get under way
Afghanistan saw an uptick of violence as Afghan President Karzai announced that the US and the Taliban are, indeed, meeting.
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The head of Mr. Hekmatyar’s political wing, Ghairat Baheer, expressed frustration to the Monitor a couple weeks ago in Islamabad, Pakistan, with the current peace process. He argued that the talks needed to be formal and public. He said the US was being “arrogant” in wanting to keep talks secret so as not to legitimize the insurgency.Skip to next paragraph
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But Hekmatyar’s group may simply be frustrated that the US has evidently prioritized talks with Mr. Omar’s faction. The secrecy benefited the Taliban given the group’s public rejection of talks before foreign forces exit Afghanistan.
One former Taliban official, Muhammad Hassan Haqyar, says focus on Omar does not bother Afghans who are optimistic about the news. “It does not mean they are not willing to talk with others,” Mr. Haqyar says.
Mid-level commanders under Omar are also on the outside looking in on this process. One interviewed by phone said he had heard that "something was happening" with talks, but he was skeptical that they would bear fruit.
"This process will not have any results. The Afghan government and the US are just trying to keep people busy,” says the commander.
He expressed doubt that top Taliban officials would be removed from a United Nations blacklist, which bars travel and freezes assets of terrorists. That would mean that an upcoming international conference in Bonn, Germany, would be a disappointment since it would not involve “real, important members of the Taliban,” he added.
The conference slated for December 2011 in Bonn is already being called by some Afghans like Mr. Baheer as “Bonn 2.” The first Bonn Conference in 2001 laid the framework for the current political system in Afghanistan. Some Afghans see the return to Bonn as a signal that a major deal is in the works to incorporate insurgents into the Afghan political process. International sources indicate, however, that Bonn 2011 is not meant to dramatically alter Afghanistan's political system.
International terrorist blacklist
As for the blacklist, the UN Security Council last week voted to separate Taliban names from those of Al Qaeda on its blacklist in order to make it easier to delist some Taliban. Removal from the blacklist is a major Taliban demand.
“The trouble they will find is that any of the senior and active Taliban on the list will stay there until the final stages. I just can’t imagine the international players supporting their removal from the list until the broader political deal is done,” says Semple.
Some names could be removed, but they would be those former Taliban who have renounced violence years ago and those believed dead. Even dead people remain on the list because one of the few cards Russia has to play in the peace process is its UN veto.
"The very fact that there was movement on this shows that the Russians are playing ball," says Semple.
The sheer number of factions and nation states that need to reconcile means the direct US-Taliban talks are just a first step and the fighting is far from over. But Washington has put a priority now on talking, says Mr. Rahmani, who points to the replacement of key American officials in Afghanistan.
“In the reshuffle the diplomatic and political players are stronger than the military players,” says Rahmani. “Reconciliation will go forward as a priority, but at the same time the parallel dimensions of the strategy is to use military means.”