This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.
Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:
The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.
So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:
The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.
A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.
The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.
“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.
The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.
Both the Iranian Fars News Agency and Pakistan’s The News Tribe are reporting that a coup attempt in Qatar has failed. The post by The News Tribe cites Al Arabiya TV, but nothing appears on Al Arabiya’s English website as of this writing, nor is there anything on the story at the English version of Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar.
Qatar is experiencing critical conditions after it was the scene of a coup attempt against Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, sources close to the country’s royal family revealed on Tuesday.
Informed sources close to the royal family in Qatar told FNA that a failed coup d’état has happened in Qatar but the Qatari officials have sought hard to keep it away from the media and the public, given the growingly fragile conditions in the country and the instability in a number of regional Arab states.
The limited news reports released by some local and Arab media earlier this week said that the Qatari Emir succeeded over the past weekend to foil a coup attempt against him. They added some 30 senior army officers were detained while some others were put under house arrest.
The News Tribe starts out with pretty much the same information as Fars:
According to Al Arabiya TV, a number of high-ranking military officers rose against the Qatari Emir, triggering fierce clashes between some 30 military officers and US-backed royal guards outside the Emir’s palace, the report said on Tuesday.
The coup was foiled following the arrest of the officers involved in the effort.
But they have much more:
American helicopters have reportedly transferred the Qatari Emir and his wife to an unknown location.
Meanwhile, informed Kuwaiti sources said that mediated recent disputes between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have unveiled a new series of disagreements between the officials of the two Persian Gulf states.
The revelation of Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani’s secret phone conversation on the internet intensified internal conflicts between the two Arab states.
In a telephone conversation, the Qatari premier envisioned a definite overthrow of the Saudi regime, saying Qatar will step in the al-Qatif and al-Sharqiya regions one day and Saudi Arabia will be disintegrated.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a piece whose headline seemed to cry out that drone strikes in Pakistan need to resume: “Lull in Strikes by U.S. Drones Aids Militants in Pakistan”. In reading the article, it is difficult to find strong evidence for the claim that the lull in strikes has helped militant groups. While the article does note a slight uptick in some forms of violence, there have been no major attacks on US forces in Afghanistan as one would expect if the insurgent groups truly had gained significant additional strength and operational capability. An alternative reading of the lull in strikes, however, is that it has provided an important opening for negotiations aimed at ending hostilities in Afghanistan. Two very important developments on that front are now in place, as Afghanistan is sending a delegation to Qatar to visit the newly established Taliban office there and the Express Tribune reports that the US is ready for the Haqqani network to take part in the peace negotiations. In the meantime, the Express Tribune also reports that negotiations between Pakistan and the US have nearly reached the point that drone strikes will resume. If the strikes resume, will progress in the peace talks be slowed or halted?
The poor footing on which the Times bases its claim that insurgents have been aided by the suspension of drone attacks is given away in the opening sentence of the article:
A nearly two-month lull in American drone strikes in Pakistan has helped embolden Al Qaeda and several Pakistani militant factions to regroup, increase attacks against Pakistani security forces and threaten intensified strikes against allied forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials say.
Attacks on the US have not increased, we only have American and Pakistani officials saying that “intensified” strikes on NATO forces are possible or threatened. As for the increase in attacks on Pakistani security forces, we have this:
Other militant groups continue attacking Pakistani forces. Just last week, Taliban insurgents killed 15 security soldiers who had been kidnapped in retaliation for the death of a militant commander.
The spike in violence in the tribal areas — up nearly 10 percent in 2011 from the previous year, according to a new independent report — comes amid reports of negotiations between Pakistan’s government and some local Taliban factions, although the military denies that such talks are taking place.
So that’s it when it comes to documentation of the strengthening of militant groups: a 10% increase for the year in violence in tribal areas, when the drone “pause” has only been for the last two months or so, with earlier shorter pauses over the Raymond Davis incident and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The article also notes that the drones have not stopped flying, it’s just that they are not launching missiles. Perhaps US intelligence personnel will take this opportunity to improve the quality of their intelligence so that fewer innocent civilians will be at risk when missile strikes resume.
Meanwhile, we learn that the newly established office for the Taliban in Qatar is about to be visited by a delegation from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council: Continue reading