Taliban commander admits war cannot be won. What does that mean?
Taliban commander's comments, in interview with Afghan expert Michael Semple, suggest that Taliban might be ready for negotiation. But are the Taliban unified enough to act as one?
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Knowing Semple, I am certain that the person he is quoting is who Semple says he is, a senior Taliban commander, and probably a man with considerable influence. It is entirely likely that this commander represents a significant faction of opinion within the Taliban, a group that may be persuaded that their best course of action in furthering their political goals would be to lay down their weapons, start talking with the Karzai government, and reintegrate into Afghan politics.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet one of the challenges that both the Americans and Afghan governments have faced is the problem of knowing who they are dealing with. When the Obama administration announced this year that it would be willing to open talks with the Taliban, and the emirate of Qatar agreed to allow the Taliban to open an office in Doha, it was with the understanding that a certain number of known Taliban leaders would represent the organization. Some Taliban leaders welcomed the idea of talks, while others publicly denied talking with the Americans.
The truth is that there are several competing factions within the Taliban movement – just as there are different interest groups, ideologies, and egos in the Republican and Democratic parties of the US. Talking with a senior leader from one particular faction does not guarantee compliance by the organization as a whole.
That is why on the same day that you read about Taliban admitting they can’t win the war, you can also read a story about Taliban claiming responsibility for a roadside bombing that may have killed six US troops, and a separate story about how Afghan security forces killed a Taliban commander and bombmaker who had been disguised as a woman.
It may also be why you can hear the distinctly non-pacifist comments of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, this week, who denied rumors of talks with “the powerless and puppet government of Karzai” as ''a wave of enemy propaganda … by some officials of the stooge Kabul regime.”
Which of these contradictory viewpoints – pragmatic negotiation or stubborn vows of warfare – truly represent “the Taliban?”
They both do.
And while these various factions debate, or even fight amongst themselves for dominance, the war in Afghanistan is likely to drag on, guaranteeing that America’s decade of intervention in Afghanistan ends with a costly flourish.