Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Talks with the Taliban won't work

For once, President Hamid Karzai may have it right.

As U.S.-Taliban-Afghan government talks were about to open last week in Doha, Qatar, Karzai objected to the Taliban's decorations of their political office with their flag and other markings of their so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

While it may seem like a small thing, the significance of the flag, etc., was huge. The Taliban, in essence, was declaring that the office was an embassy of their country and their "government."

By extension the talks, they were implying, were and are taking place on their territory and on their terms, and with an illegitimate entity -- Karzai's government.

By sitting down with the Taliban in such a circumstance, Karzai knew that it was tantamount to conceding a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

For all practical purposes, the Taliban is right. They've won the war in Afghanistan.

As I wrote in Above the Din of War, the Taliban controls at least 75 percent of the country and has for the past several years. The Karzai government, such as it is, controls only the major urban areas, due mostly to the presence of U.S., British, and other international forces.

While international forces and Afghan forces patrol the countryside, they do so at the risk of serious Taliban attacks and the high likelihood of devastating roadside bombs.

The relentless and deadly suicide bombings in Kabul and other urban areas, which grow each day in intensity and frequency, show that the grip of the Afghan forces is tenuous.

Once the international pull-out is complete, the Taliban will quite easily cement their control throughout most of the country.  Within six months of the pull out, we can expect to see a map of Afghanistan that resembles that of 2000, when the Northern Alliance held just parts of northern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled the rest.

The Taliban has nothing to lose and much to gain by engaging these so-called peace talks. They do so from a position of strength because the United States and its NATO allies are headed for the exists.

As the Taliban is wont to say about the U.S. and NATO: "They have the watches. We have the time."

With the American withdrawal set for the end of next year, just 18 months away, the U.S. is desperate for some sort of a negotiated, political settlement.

The fact is that the Taliban has no reason to make concessions or to sign anything that might diminish  their command and control over vast swaths of Afghanistan.

Yet, when and if talks with the Taliban actually begin, the Taliban will earn bonus public relations points by simply sitting down and portraying themselves as willing to talk about peace, regardless of the truth of the matter.

Each and every day such talks continue, the U.S. will reveal its desperate desire to walk away  from Afghanistan and declare, "job done," regardless of the reality on the ground.

Even if an agreement can be reached with the Taliban, there is little or no way that provisions of it could be enforced, should they be violated by the Taliban.

The absurdity that surrounds these would-be peace talks is difficult to fathom.

I would have thought that someone with the experience of Secretary of State John Kerry would have rejected the notion of Taliban talks without major concessions on their part.

Ironically, it seems that Karzai is one of the few who gets it.

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