Peace Talks Breaking Out All Over

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall, so no link!) Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that Afghanistan has joined the “secret” talks that have been underway for some time now between the US and the Taliban. From Reuters:

Karzai’s government had previously been excluded from early, exploratory contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the insurgents seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington.

But the Journal quoted Karzai on Thursday as saying the Taliban were “definitively” interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.

“People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They’re also people like we all are. They have families, they have relatives, they have children, they are suffering a tough time,” the Journal quoted Karzai as saying in an interview conducted on Wednesday in the Afghan capital.

“There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban.”

Karzai also arrived in Islamabad today and entered immediately into discussions with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. From the Express Tribune:

Earlier in the day, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the President House.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister House, Gilani and Karzai discussed a range of issues, including the regional situation and bilateral ties, which have been hit by mistrust following recent cross-border attacks. The two leaders also discussed ongoing efforts for restoring peace in conflict-hit Afghanistan, such as US’ negotiations with the Taliban in which both Pakistan and Afghanistan have felt neglected by the US.

But those were the second and third paragraphs of the Express Tribune article. The first paragraph has material that is not nearly as prevalent in the US reporting on the talks among the US, the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It turns out that Karzai has traveled to Islambad to take part in three way meetings with Pakistan and Iran. The first paragraph:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in Pakistan for a two-day visit to attend the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral summit in Islamabad, Express News reported on Thursday.

So, following on yesterday’s news that Iran has taken the next formal steps toward re-starting the Group 5+1 talks on nuclear technology, we have Ahmadinejad going to Islamabad for regional peace talks. Fars News has more on the visit:

The two-day Islamabad summit will open on Friday with the participation of the Iranian president and his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari.

“We hope that the Islamabad meeting would take bigger steps toward the promotion of regional cooperation and the restoration of peace and stability in the region,” President Ahmadinejad told reporters before departure on Thursday.

Ahmadinejad couldn’t resist pointing out that efforts from the US haven’t exactly helped the situation so far:

He said that all solutions put forward by extra-regional countries failed to contribute to the restoration of stability in the region.

Returning to the issue of Karzai joining the peace talks on behalf of Afghanistan, there are interesting observations about both Karzai and the Taliban taking part and what this means. From the New York Times coverage of Karzai’s arrival in Islamabad:

Nonetheless, the mere possibility that the Taliban would even entertain talks with the Afghan government is significant. In the past, the Taliban have described Mr. Karzai as a “puppet leader” and the Afghan government as a “puppet government.” Since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, they have declared they are the rightful Afghan government. In the last year, they have insisted on face-to-face talks with the Americans rather than with the Afghan government.

Continued direct talks with the Afghan government would suggest an admission that the Afghan government is legitimate. The talks would also be important because they would begin to get key players needed to start substantive discussions in the same room, but the obstacles to real progress remain formidable.

But there are serious concerns by some parties inside Afghanistan that Karzai could go too far in making concessions to the Taliban. From Reuters:

Afghanistan’s government must not retreat from hard-won freedoms or return to strict religious curbs to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, the country’s former spy chief said, warning Afghans were distrustful of the secrecy surrounding nascent talks.

After President Hamid Karzai said the U.S. and Afghan governments had opened three-way “contacts” with the Taliban in a bid to end the country’s decade-long war, Amrullah Saleh said ethnic groups coalescing towards a more unified opposition were prepared to fight to prevent a return of Taliban militancy.

“We want the state to remain pluralistic, not bow to the barrel of a gun,” Saleh, a former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service and now a political opposition activist, told Reuters at his heavily-guarded Kabul home.

“If the Taliban, like us, want to come and play according to the script, sure. But if they come with gun-mounted Hi-Lux trucks, no, that means continuation of civil war, of war, and fragmentation of Afghanistan,” he said.

There clearly are many facets to negotiating a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. It is heartening that so many parties are taking part in discussions now. If all parties negotiate in good faith and truly desire peace, there might just be a chance to achieve it. However, because the region is splintered into so many different interest groups, there will always be concern that a group could come to the conclusion that it has more to gain from violence than from taking part in any settlement. Let us hope that somehow a pathway will be found that leads to all sides moving away from violence.

8 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    I couldn’t help but notice that the US wasn’t invited to participate in the three-way (or would that then be a four-way?).

  2. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Couple of reasons for that (although I’m sure you already know):

    1)It is a regional thing and the US hasn’t yet officially named Afghanistan as a US territory.

    2) The first two of these trilateral meetings were in Tehran.

  3. Brian Silver says:

    Will they all return home from the talks wearing “Make Love, Not War” buttons? First they have to even up the stakes by sharing resources.

    For a start the Pakis and the Iranis can share their A-bomb secrets with the Taliban and the Karzai government. This will create a M.A.D. situation that would deter any side from attacking the other. Then they will create a common economic market, which the Taliban will kick off by agreeing to share their agribusiness model with the others, specifically to develop a common market for poppy-growing and its products as well as profit sharing across the borders.

    On that basis, their common defense pact would require first of all kicking all the Arabs out of Central Asia. Let them democratize their own countries. And then they could kick out all the Americans. P.O.E., P.O.E.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I had the great honor to get to know a young man from Afghanistan who was studying on a Fulbright scholarship here at Ohio University around 2005-08. He and I had hundreds of hours of conversations about his family( very large 12 siblings, wife and four children who he had to leave for that period of time) his country, his religion, and lots of politics. An amazing and brilliant young man (have his permission to use his name but it makes me way to nervous for him because he is back in his country) He has a “God Willing” kind of attitude. But I don’t.

    His father was the equivalent to a retired Brigadier General but in the service of the military in Afghanistan. His father had fought with the Mujahadeen against the Russians. After the Russians bombed his families compound and one of the 12 children (the oldest) had been blown to bits his father moved the whole family to Pashtun(long story in and of itself) My friend remembers (he was 4 at the time) his mother picking up his sisters body parts.

    During our many conversations he said soon after the 9/11 attack the Bush administration was asking the Afghanistan government to turn OBL over. In response the government of Afghanistan had asked the Bush administration for verifiable evidence to back up the US claims that OBL was involved with the 9/11 attack. He and his father (via email) had said that the Bush administration could not provide that evidence at that time.

    Soon after the Bush administration invaded Iraq he said his father had said “does the US want to lose the situation in Afghanistan again?” They both kept repeating then that the only way to deal with the Taliban was to putt the more moderate Taliban members to the table and include them in the discussions etc. That this was the only way. That the Taliban could be run off for awhile but the only way was to ultimately engage them. You have to ask what has taken the US military so long to get to this point. And do know that negotiations have been going on longer than the last year.

    The other thing that he said was that this massacre (where surrendered Taliban were allowed to suffocate) that was swept under the rug sure did not cultivate confidence within the ranks of the people of Afghanistan. Saw this the day Amy Goodman broadcast the report in 2003. Never heard any coverage anywhere else in the MSM. Not a whisper
    “Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death” Broadcast for the First Time Ever in the US: Eyewitnesses Testify that US Troops Were Complicit in the Massacre of up to 3,000 Taliban Prisoners During the Afgha

    Democracy Now was the first to broadcast this documentary in the states and I believe the last.

  5. Kathleen says:

    the most confusing and fascinating issue in Afghanistan

    Another issue my friend and I would talk about is how the Russians had wiped out many of the pomegrante, almond etc orchards in Afghanistan. Wiping out the ability of many of their farmers to make a living growing these crops, many forced in to poppy growing. Fast growing and pays better. Had no idea that cotton production had been so huge before the Russians invaded.

    Better link to the Afghan massacre

  6. Brian Silver says:

    Afghanistan has huge resources in cobalt, copper, gold, rare earth, and oil and gas, that have not been fully developed. If peace breaks out, there will be increased opportunities to expand exploration and extraction of minerals. That said, the rights to many of these valuable resources have been actively pursued, and purchased by, Chinese and Russian enterprises. And we know that the “resource curse” is a huge challenge to democracy (even here in the US of A). Corruption and the subversion of democracy are nearly universal consequences of this curse. (There is some disputation on this. See

    This all means that any “4-party” agreement that might lead to a pacified Afghanistan, even with Taliban incorporated into or even in the leading coalition in Kabul, has enormous challenges ahead of it, perhaps in part owing to the course of future economic development and exploitation of natural resources.

  7. Bob Schacht says:


    They both kept repeating then that the only way to deal with the Taliban was to putt the more moderate Taliban members to the table and include them in the discussions etc.

    I expect this elementary tactic of statecraft to have eluded the wits of George Bush, but not Hilary and Barack. Furthermore, the one thing that you absolutely do not want to do is make the entire Taliban your enemy. We are treating the Taliban as a unitary force with a commander somewhere. No, its not Mullah Omar. He’s important and influential, but he does not command all the Taliban, which is at best an alliance of local groups. Better to divide them, and focus our forces on the worst elements (sticks) while seeking ties with the most moderate elements (carrots).

    And we ought to be building schools and hospitals rather than military bases.

    Bob in AZ

Comments are closed.