Will Successful Bergdahl Negotiations Get US-Taliban Peace Negotiations Going Again?

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.

In today’s New York Times, we are warned not to infer that the prisoner swap means that additional talks look likely:

The freeing of five senior Taliban figures in exchange for the American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, has offered both a rare insight into the insurgent group’s inner workings and a diplomatic first in the long Afghan war: a negotiated agreement between the highest levels of the American government and the pinnacle of the Taliban command.

Representatives of both sides played down the idea that the exchange, long seen as a crucial prelude to any broader talks, might breathe new life into the effort to engage the Taliban in a peace effort. But the complex swap showed “each side that the other can deliver,” said one senior American official close to the effort. And it gave both the Taliban leadership and the Obama administration important political symbols.

In contrast, ToloNews cites optimism at the Afghan High Peace Council, which was to be a participant in the initial talks in early 2012:

Although the Afghan High Peace Council did not play any role in facilitating the exchange, members expressed optimisms about the impact of the prisoners’ release on peace talks with the Taliban, which have failed to make headway despite President Hamid Karzai’s desperate attempts over the past year to get them going.

“The release of the Guantanamo prisoners came from the U.S. and releasing the captive was a decision by Taliban, so this deal was strictly between them two,” said Ismail Qasimyar, Global Affairs Advisor to the High Peace Council. “But it will not end here and it will have its impacts.”

Just as he was upset about not being part of the 2012 process, Karazi is now protesting not being included in the talks that led to the prisoner swap:

The Afghan president is angry at being kept in the dark over a deal to free five Taliban leaders in exchange for a captured U.S. soldier, and accuses Washington of failing to back a peace plan for the war-torn country, a senior source said on Monday.


“The president is now even more distrustful of U.S. intentions in the country,” said the source at President Hamid Karzai’s palace in Kabul, who declined to be identified.

“He is asking: How come the prisoner exchange worked out so well, when the Afghan peace process failed to make any significant progress?”

Just as we had little hint before it was announced that the prisoner swap would take place, I suspect that any new peace talks among the Afghan Taliban, the US, the Afghan High Peace Council, the Haqqani Network and even the Afghan government will take place behind a strong veil of secrecy until the process has ended, whether successful or not.

6 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    A case of more demonstrated disdain for Afghan sovereignty. The new president will toe the line for a while, but then he will become as fed up with shabby treatment from the US as Karzai is.

    Regarding negotiations, the Afghan High Peace Council formed several years ago formulated a time-phased plan for negotiations which included Saudi Arabia, and somehow that got changed to Qatar. It might be interesting to find out why that happened — I don’t know why. Saudi Arabia is closer to Pakistan, which sponsors the Taliban.

    II. Step Two (first half of 2013)
    4. Afghanistan Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to explore and agree terms for initiating direct peace talks between the HPC/Government of Afghanistan with Taliban and other Afghan armed groups with a focus on Saudi Arabia as the venue.

  2. Seedeevee says:

    Ha ha, Jim.

    We all understand that “peace negotiations with the Taliban” means “CIA Targeting Practice”.

    Peace would be nice, though.

  3. RUKidding says:

    What I don’t understand – and I’m probably naïve, stupid or both – is why Taliban top dogs were in Gitmo to begin with. I thought Gitmo was for Al Qaeda, who posed a serious threat to USians within our borders. I thought Team USA attacked the Taliban – somewhat unprovoked sort of – in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban can be pretty heinous, I never saw them as directly threatening the USA. Those were prisoners of war, not alleged terrorists who allegedly directly threatened the USA.

    So confusing. I think I need a map or something.

    I believe some of the secrecy may have happened because the last time a release of Bergdahl was in negotiation, the vaunted “Republicans” let the cat out of the bag in their unending game of Obama-gotcha and bitch-fest. And then the negotiations failed.

    I’m no lover of Obama, and no doubt the Spooks have some skin in this game. But the secrecy maybe is due to avoiding the break-down in negotiations that happened previously. Undoubtedly, the USA is condescending to the Afghani govt & will do whatever Team USA d*mn well pleases, thankyewverymuch.

    • Don Bacon says:

      You are justified in being confused – -we all are.
      Some Taliban you kill, and other Taliban you talk to.
      What does Afghanistan want? It’s not a factor.
      The basic US foreign policy is to promote instability, which is a natural product of unstable minds in Washington.
      from Obama’s “way forward” in 2009:
      objectives: We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.
      so– kill & talk
      going back further to Obama’s “new way forward” in 2009:
      I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.
      and a Contact Group (hah):
      . . .together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region — our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China.
      General Dunford (and others) have estimated less than 100 AQ in Afghanistan.

  4. RUKidding says:

    Thanks, Don Bacon. I think I fell asleep at the wheel or lost track bc, in truth, I had forgotten about Taliban forced into the Gitmo hell-hole. And then the pivot from Saudi Arabia to Qatar? Interesting. But Bandar Bush is on the outs in SA now and/or… ?? Isn’t it Saudi who was (are they still?) funding AQ to begin with?

    Map, please! Unstable minds in District of Criminals do not promote anything remotely akin to clarity. I guess is you’re sucked up in the Dragnet and end up in Gitmo, it’s your own d*mn fault. Same thing will apply to the hapless in USA, as Occupiers have, unfortunately, discovered.

    If you’re a rightwinger with a gun (and friends with guns) out on the open cowboy range, apparently you can threaten the USG all you want & get off scott-free, including not paying your lawful fees. If you’re a hippy peacefully protesting the USG, get ready for the Big House. (sorry: I know that’s somewhat off-topic but somehow seems to relate to the rest of the madness).

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