May 4, 2012

London Arabic paper on talks with Taliban

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — David Isby @ 1:35 pm

Report from Islamabad by Umar Faruq: “Washington-Taliban Negotiations: Mines on the Road to Peace. The Negotiations have been going on for 16 Months. Mulla Muhammad Tayyib Agha is the Link between Mulla Umar and Washington”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Friday, April 27, 2012

When a senior American official came in the last months of 2011 to visit the commander of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, at the General Directorate headquarters in Rawalpindi, he wanted to surprise the General by a report he brought for him. He told him that the American Administration was conducting secret talks with representatives from the Taliban Movement at a desolate village in Germany near Munich. But there was no surprise in this for General Kayani. He told his American visitor that he knew through his intelligence sources most of what was going on in the contacts between the United States and the Taliban Movement.

What did surprise General Kayani was the request the American visitor conveyed to him from senior US Administration officials, namely “to provide protection to the Taliban Movement representatives who are conducting talks with American diplomats in Germany and Doha”. This had been revealed by Al-Sharq al-Awsat on the basis of information from reliable official sources and was published at the time. Informed sources tell Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the Government and Army leaders in Pakistan assured American officials that the representatives of the Taliban Movement whose names the Pakistani Government has specified will enjoy protection if they enter Pakistani territory. The head of the Taliban delegation, Mulla Muhammad Tayyib Agha, a close aide to Mulla Umar who worked as director of his office in Kabul from 1996 until the movement fell in 2001, traveled with a Pakistani passport to conduct the talks in Germany.

This American request for protection by the Pakistani Army to Tayyib Agha and two of his companions was motivated by fear that Al-Qa’ida organization, or perhaps some extremist elements inside Taliban, would try to assassinate the movement’s negotiators after the lid was uncovered about the secret talks between American officials and the movement.

The Americans see Tayyib Agha as a valuable link with the Taliban leadership. He demonstrated that he was trustworthy on more than one occasion during the talks with the Americans. The concern for the safety of the Taliban representatives was the reason American diplomats tried to keep these contacts with Taliban secret.

A senior Pakistani official said: “The Americans feared the leak of any information on the secret talks with Taliban might endanger the lives of the Taliban negotiators. They feared that somebody from Al-Qa’ida or perhaps some extremists in Taliban would try to assassinate Tayyib Agha and his two companions.”

In the course of the talks with the Taliban representatives, the Americans became convinced they were negotiating with somebody who is in direct contact with Mulla Umar. This conviction came when Tayyib Agha, the spokesman for Taliban, issued a statement on what went on between him and the American diplomats. American diplomacy further realized that Taliban has dissociated itself from Al-Qa’ida and other international jihad organizations inside Afghanistan. This convinced the Americans that Tayyib Agha and his two colleagues represent the trend in Taliban that considers the Arab Afghans responsible for their defeat at the hands of the American forces in 2002.

The secret talks between Taliban and the American diplomats are continuing even though the two sides have not succeeded after 16 months of intermittent negotiations to reach any political understanding that could contribute to removing the mines on the road to establishing a lasting peace in Afghanistan. The discussions conducted with the diplomats and experts in Islamabad on this issue showed that these continuous secret talks between Taliban’s representatives and the American diplomats have not achieved more than the release of some prisoners and responsiveness by Taliban in easing violence in Afghanistan at the request of UN officials in the country.

The two sides have held until now four official rounds of negotiations in Germany, Dubai, and Doha. The focus of the discussions in all these was on establishing a permanent line of communications between the two sides. The first direct round between the American diplomats and the Taliban representatives was held in Munich in November 2010. Taliban was represented by Tayyib Agha, who is close to Mulla Umar. The talks were attended by a senior official from the Qatar Government at the request of Taliban.

The Pakistani officials expressed dismay that the Americans did not trust them and inform them about the secret talks and that they learned about this only through their own sources inside Taliban. The Americans said they did not tell anyone about these negotiations in their initial phases to prevent disruption of the negotiations. But Pakistani officials told Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the Americans informed them about these negotiations after two rounds were actually conducted.

A Pakistani official informed about the talks said: “These were more of a session than negotiations. Each side became acquainted with the other.” In the second round held in Doha Taliban representatives Tayyib Agha raised the issue of the Taliban prisoners held by the American Army and intelligence at the Bagram Air Force Base and other locations in Afghanistan. The American side made no commitments on this.

The Pakistani and Afghani Governments raised the idea of holding talks with Taliban due to many reasons. Afghani President Hamid Karzai has been convinced that the shortages in American financing for war efforts in Afghanistan make it impossible to win the war militarily. Meanwhile the Pakistanis want Taliban to get a share in power-sharing arrangements in Afghanistan just to keep India away from Afghanistan.

The European countries have persistently urged the American Administration to start a dialogue with Taliban to pave the way for a final withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. A major advance was achieved in these talks when the Americans became certain that Afghanistan’s Taliban has begun to dissociate itself from Al-Qa’ida and that it has responded to UN appeals to reduce violence inside Afghanistan. Diplomatic sources revealed to Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the second round of talks with Taliban was held in Doha in February 2011. At that round, each side wanted the other side to prove it has acquired the necessary mandate from its higher authorities to conduct these talks. Diplomats in Islamabad say that by the end of that round the Americans were convinced that Tayyib Agha had contacts with Mulla Umar and that he represents him in these talks.

The third round was held in Germany three weeks only after the killing of Usama Bin Ladin in Pakistan. It was a pleasant surprise for the Americans that the Taliban delegation did not raise the issue of Bin Ladin’s killing during these talks which continued for three days. They agreed in that round to a proposal to remove the names of some Taliban leaders from the UN sanctions list. This was followed by Afghani President Hamid Karzai’s release of some Taliban leaders from the Kabul Prison after these talks.

Opponents from both sides to these secret talks continued to play a negative role to make the process fail. After the third round, an official in the Government of President Karzai leaked some information about these talks to the German press. This resulted in suspending the talks. The fourth round was not held on schedule and was postponed for several months. Similarly, the attacks launched on the American Embassy in Kabul led to suspension of the talks between the American CIA and another group which is more aggressive than Taliban, often called in the US media by the name of “the Haqqani network”.

The Haqqani network, headed by Taliban’s former Defense Minister Jalal-al-Din Haqqani, is focused in the Pakistani tribal areas north of Wazirstan. The Pakistan intelligence convinced the CIA to hold a meeting with some representatives from the Haqqani network in August 2011 as part of the bid to arrange talks with Taliban. The meeting did not materialize, but some progress was mad e in the initial contacts between the Americans and the Haqqani network, according to some informed sources. Despite this, progress was halted after the attack on the American Embassy in Kabul and after some American officials blamed this attack on the Haqqani network.

Most experts express conviction that the Americans need to take a more comprehensive look at the situation in Afghanistan if they want to pave the way for a final withdrawal of forces by 2014. A prominent expert who preferred anonymity said: “The problem is that the Americans have no plan for withdrawal. They say they shall withdraw by 2014, but how can you withdraw your forces at a time a civil war is in progress in Afghanistan?” Taliban did reduce the scale of violence on some occasions in response to UN appeals but it has also proven its ability to raise the level of violence within days.

Similarly, some experts say that the American plan to turn over security affairs in Afghanistan to the budding national Afghani army is mere wishful thinking. These experts add: “The national Afghani army lacks training and equipment, not to mention the large-scale desertions from the Afghani Army in the past few months.” In this situation, the search for a political solution for violence in Afghanistan might be the only viable option for the Americans.

(Description of Source: London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic — Website of influential London-based pan-Arab Saudi daily; editorial line reflects Saudi official stance. URL: http://www.asharqalawsat.com/)