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Is Taliban Serious About Talks? (Page 3 of 3)

But the fact is that ethical and tactical problems abound in any deal. Noori and Fazl are accused of having killed thousands of Afghan Shiites between 1998 and 2001 in their quest to create the perfect Sunni Islam emirate. Many in the United States, meanwhile, would insist that the Taliban release their own American captive – 25-year old sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, captured in June 2009 – as part of any exchange. Meanwhile, Karzai is insisting that any Afghan prisoners released from Guantanamo must be transferred to his government rather than to Qatar or the Taliban directly. Taliban representatives also want the United States to work to remove their names from international terrorist black lists.

Meanwhile, even dealing with any Taliban rank and file who want to stop fighting has proven challenging. According to NATO, almost 3,000 Taliban guerrillas have renounced violence and reintegrated back into Afghanistan’s civilian society under the government’s Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program. 

The defectors are supposed to receive protection, jobs, vocational training, housing, and other benefits in return for laying down their weapons. But thus far, the Afghan government has proved unable to provide them with these benefits. The Afghan National Army isn’t strong enough to pressure many Taliban soldiers to defect or guarantee their safety if they do. In addition, the government’s civilian institutions are unable to generate adequate legitimate employment or curb some of the social abuses, such as corruption, that lead people to take up arms in protest.

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Some of the former fighters have been allowed to enroll in the Afghan National Army, Army National Police, and even community-based militias. The risk is that these fighters might rejoin the Taliban again after receiving government-funded training and weapons. Alternately, the militias could reinforce local warlords by placing these experienced fighters under the command of regional elites who rely on force to exploit their local communities.

The Afghan government might not be able to prevent the Qatar talks from being primarily a U.S.-Taliban dialogue, but its members will invariably demand that they enjoy decisive say in any power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. Such a deal could range from a comprehensive coalition government to a more limited sharing of authority in certain geographic and functional areas (such as the Taliban’s having a larger role in Pashtun-dominated areas but limited say over Afghanistan’s foreign policy).

More generally, many Afghans complain they find out little about the peace process and fear they will eventually confront a settlement negotiated among Afghan and Taliban leaders imposed on them. They would like to see a less top-down, elite driven process by establishing some mechanism by which traditionally marginalized groups can express their views. Those Afghans distrustful of Pakistan and the NATO countries would also like to see the United Nations have a larger role in the peace process.

Many Taliban leaders naturally believe that they only need to keep fighting for a few more years until the Western publics compel their governments to withdraw their forces. They could, then, imitate the North Vietnamese strategy of professing to accept a compromise peace settlement in order to secure a foreign military withdrawal, and then resume offensive operations against the still weak Afghan Security Forces, which have yet to demonstrate substantial military effectiveness.

In the meantime, American officials hope to see the Qatar office open in a few weeks and negotiations commence by the time of the NATO summit in Chicago this May. Several Taliban leaders have already begun moving to Qatar in anticipation of their soon leading the office.  The fact they are bringing their families with them suggests they believe the negotiating process could last for some time.   

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