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Afghan Crunch Time: Obama Must Decide Whether To Talk To The Taliban

April 27, 2010

Ahmed Rashid

Before President Hamid Karzai arrives in Washington next month, President Obama has to make clear key decisions on the course of war and peacemaking in Afghanistan.

Neighboring countries and most Afghans believe that the endgame has begun for a post-U.S. Afghanistan. There are just 14 months for the U.S. military surge to show results while Washington simultaneously prepares to begin its July 2011 troop withdrawal and handover to the Afghan government. Already, efforts to jockey for future control of Afghanistan have been seen among Pakistan, India, Iran and even Russia. Several NATO countries eager to withdraw forces are frustrated. It is clear in the region that someone will have to mediate with the Taliban, but in the absence of U.S. leadership, a tug of war is taking place over who will do it, when, how and where.

The recent spat between the White House and Karzai — which has cooled down thanks in part to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan — largely stemmed from Karzai’s growing frustration over questions about which the Obama administration has been unclear.

According to U.S. and Afghan officials, Karzai’s first question when he arrives will be whether Washington supports his efforts at reconciliation with the senior Taliban leadership. In January, the United States and NATO agreed to reintegration — bringing in Taliban foot soldiers and low-level commanders — but Washington balked at full reconciliation, saying it wants to see the Taliban weakened militarily over the next six to 12 months before considering talks with its leaders.

Karzai’s representatives, however, have spent the past 12 months holding talks about talks with senior Taliban representatives in several Arab Gulf states. Taliban leaders have made clear that they want to talk directly to the United States, and Karzai knows his discussions with the Taliban cannot go further without public U.S. support and a commitment to engage. The Afghans want a clear answer from Washington that they will lead any future negotiations.

The Obama Cabinet is set to discuss this issue, but it has been divided, including over how American voters would react to talks with the Taliban. Nevertheless, Karzai is hoping for a positive decision by the time he arrives in Washington. The issue is complicated by the Pakistani military’s determination to guide or even dominate the peace process rather than leave it to the Afghans.

Pakistan holds many of the cards: Taliban leaders and their families live in Pakistan and are in close touch with the military and its Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Some Taliban allies, such as the network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, are even closer to the ISI. Although the military is finally hunting down the Pakistani Taliban in the Northwest tribal areas, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani extremists in Punjab province are being left alone.

The January arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the No. 2 Taliban leader, in Karachi and the unexplained arrests and subsequent freeing of several other leading Taliban figures have demonstrated to Kabul and Washington the Pakistani military’s clout.

Karzai and most Afghans fear that if Washington waits too long to decide about talking to the Taliban, control will fall to the ISI as happened in the 1980s and 1990s — when Washington abandoned Afghanistan to Russia and Pakistan but the ISI played favorites and was unable to end the civil war among Afghan factions.

Almost all Afghans, including Karzai’s Pashtun supporters, the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance and even the Taliban oppose any major role for the ISI, as do most regional powers, particularly India, Iran, Russia and the five Central Asian republics.

When Karzai visited Islamabad on March 10 to find out why his interlocutor Mullah Baradar was arrested, he was, according to Afghan officials, bluntly told by Pakistan’s generals that the Americans are bound to leave and that if he wanted Pakistani help resolving issues with the Taliban, he would first have to close Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad. Pakistani officials deny threatening Karzai and insist that they want a peaceful and stable Afghanistan once the Americans leave. But other sources have confirmed that such ultimatums were delivered.

Pakistan is convinced that Karzai is allowing India to undermine Pakistan’s western border regions through its four consulates in Afghanistan and has demanded that Afghanistan close the consulates.

For a sovereign Afghanistan, this is an impossible request, but it is just the opening gambit in a looming test of wills. Pakistan’s maneuvers have prompted India to try reactivating its 1990s alliance with Iran, Russia and Central Asia, which supported the former Northern Alliance in a civil war against the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime.

Pakistan’s military has virtually taken control of foreign policy and strategic decision making from the civilian government. Thus Pakistan’s foreign policy reflects the military’s obsession with India.

The region and NATO countries are eager to hear from Washington on dealing with the Taliban. A U.S. decision is needed before regional tensions further escalate. The Obama administration must signal greater clarity about talking to the Taliban if the United States and NATO are to help the Afghans structure any future dialogue with the Taliban and if Afghans are not to feel abandoned once again to the whims of their neighbors.

Washington Post

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15 comments

  1. 1) ‘…Thus Pakistan’s foreign policy reflects the military’s obsession with India.’

    It is not an obsession. We have been left in no doubt now that India will at every opportunity created by it or presneted to it will at least try and malign Pakistan.

    Even if it is an obsession it is based on reality.

    2)’Pakistan’s military has virtually taken control of foreign policy and strategic decision making from the civilian government.’

    Well done the Pak Army. The idiots in the government were running around like headless chickens when when faced with thier first foerign policy crisis. Remember they were going to send the head of ISI to India!!!! Fools.


  2. This Ahmad Rashid writes cock and bull story, he cannot support his statements as it stems out of his brain just to please his mentors.His articles should not be given space in amy pakistani magazine.He wants to create trouble in Afghanistan by making false accusations on Pakistan Army. Instead of suggestion and advises, he uses his lies to creates negative results for our country and Afghanistan.


  3. Ahmed Rashid is a journalist who always seems to have a very negative view of the Pakistan Army for whatever reasons. The fact is that India since 1947 has never accepted the creation of Pakistan. Itknows that the biggest threat to its regional hegemony is Pakistan – not China. So the indians say that they are not Pakistan centric but China centric but all their military & diplomatic ventures have been Pakistan centric.
    The present Political set up in Pakistan is extremely corrupt with no regard for Pakistan’ sovereignty only regard for the mighty dollar. So its no surprising that the army has literally take over the foreignpolicy from the corrupt civilian governrment.


  4. PKKH JUST AN INQUIRY; WHY DID YOU DELETED ZH’S REACENT DEBAT PROGRAMM ON ILAMA IQBAL?????

    CAN YOU PLZ LET US KNOW. THANK YOU


  5. The 9/11….was the work of Israeli Jews and Indian Hindus to destabilise America’s internal economies to further their dirty aims, resulting Israel taking over on territories with Indian extremist Hindus inside America’s main financial hubs the Wall Street and so, and later to take on the Mid and Far East regions. Americans should realise this fact and deal with both accordingly?

    Actual targets of extremist Israelis and Hindus are Pak & USA states. Right now Indian Hindus are gaining unprecedented influence in UK and USA.

    It is beyond one’s understandings to comprehend; how both UK and USA are going out of their ways to promote, accommodate and to establish Indian Hindus in their systems and societies, while sidelined Paks and Arabs as if both just don’t exist? What India has that Pakistan and the Arabs lack? An answer to this can only be that India is a complicit crime partner of the west in the genocides of Muslims.

    In 1947 Muslims lost lands that Islamic world and the Mogul Empire built over the centuries creating India out of baron lands in Far East. British Christians and Indian Hindus collaboratively committed untold hyenas’ crimes against Muslims, grabbing the country and getting rid of main Muslim populations. The violence and the genocide of Muslims went on spreading over a century.

    The genocide of Muslims took place in India on a massive scale by the British and Hindus together to destroy the last remnants of Moguls and the others. The plans drawn by the extremist Hindus against their Muslim rulers were fully helped and backed by the British Christians known as; “The Common Thieves”.

    From early 19th century to now the eastern region suffered destructions and setbacks, mainly causing Muslims immense amount of damages and losses.
    The maps drawn by going out British created two separate states with no equilibrium balances of divisions among the two fundamentally different nations.

    The ratios and the radios of both states worked out vastly in the favours of Hindus by breaking up Muslim populations into many separate smaller portions; West Pakistan, East Pakistan, All Kashmir, Assam and India, whilst leaving Hindu population well in tacked on 80% of the land masses and well in the control of everything in newly formed British raj’s slave state India.

    In history of Pakistan’s recent years, its fundamental enemies the axis of evils brought in the “Boarder-Bound War” to break up areas of Pakistan further into much smaller areas on the local resource basis, i.e., Baluchistan and Northern areas. The war with Cold start waged on Pakistan with strategies of high levels of effective offenses, mostly never been tried before this, are well in place for furthering the region into the era that might not see an end for a long time.

    A term “War on Terror” is in fact “Muslim/s Pacific, Tagging Muslims as Terrorists to gain further help to break down larger Muslim populations into many smaller segments and sections and into many smaller parts and divisions with total disconnections among.

    And so both the Muslims and the whole of the Islamic world were plunged into this dirty war only so the extremist terrorists; the west, the Israeli Jews and the Indian Hindus can feel safe and secure with their rules, terms and conditions implimented on Muslims and their ideologies and stands?

    The big question now is this;
    HOW LONG WILL MUSLIMS TAKE TO WAKE UP AND DO WHAT IS REQUIERED TO COUNTER AND BECOME PROACTIVE TO RECLAIME WHAT WE HAVE LOST?


    • “In 1947 Muslims lost lands that Islamic world and the Mogul Empire built over the centuries creating India out of baron lands in Far East.”

      err… I’m not sure what history you really read, but India wasn’t ‘baron’ (barren) and neither was it created by the Mughals.


      • Amused…carry on with your pathetic Hindu mindset and let the world to see how a typical Hindu with bad attentions for others behaves, when given chance.


  6. PKKH is distancing them selves from ZH and for a good reason.


    • We Pakistani’s (united) want ZH to be our president and replace the amrican stooge zardari. The earlier this happens the better it is for Pakistan and the Muslims all over the world.


  7. Silly cowards like Ahmed Rashid have been faking to represent Pakistani people for long even though these drawing-room insects know nothing about the aggressive psyche, vast capabilities, high ambitions, and courageous history of Pakistani people. This herd of lowly selfish dummies always tries to write to please and placate their foreign masters. Such people have no sense of self-confidence, self-steaminess, and self-respect and behave like helpless nerds who are at the mercy of others. We need the people of vision with creativity and strategic thinking who could dream high and lead this nation to progress, development, and prosperity. The likes of Ahmed Rashid are a shame for us.


  8. OBAMA MUST UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS THE TIME TO LEAVE AFGHANISTAN BECAUSE INDIA IS GOING TO LURE USA INTO A WORLD WAR AND THEN CHEAT USA AT THE VERY CRUCIAL MOMENT.


    • @ communist ! u r right !

      Baniye pe bharossa karliya, ghaatay mein rahe
      gadha to ghaeb howa, seengh bhi jate rahe
      rafaykashmiri


  9. When i read that article i thought i am on indian blogpost reading the interest of indian
    this writer aint know nthng he should join bolywod for creating these kind of stirs


    • I dont think its important about Indian or Pakistani interest, as long as what he mentions are real facts on the ground. We should look at this as the world view, not the Indian or the Pakistani view.


  10. @ Osamobama’s thoughts before dialogues with his
    distant admirers Talibans:

    Piyaar par bas to nahin he mera lekin phir bhi,
    tu batadey keh tujhay piyaar karon ya na karon
    Sahir Ludhianavi



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