Obama’s Secret Talks With The Taliban

U.S.-Taliban Talks
by Steve Coll

On August 22, 1998, Mullah Omar, the emir of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, made a cold call to the State Department. The United States had just lobbed cruise missiles at Al Qaeda camps in his nation. Omar got a mid-level diplomat on the line and spoke calmly. He suggested that Congress force President Bill Clinton to resign. He said that American military strikes “would be counter-productive,” and would “spark more, not less, terrorist attacks,” according to a declassified record of the call. “Omar emphasized that this was his best advice,” the record adds.

That was the first and last time that Omar spoke to an American government official, as far as is known. Before September 11th, some of his deputies had occasionally spoken with U.S. diplomats, but afterward the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the ground that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda was. Last year, however, as the U.S.-led Afghan ground war passed its ninth anniversary, and Mullah Omar remained in hiding, presumably in Pakistan, a small number of officials in the Obama Administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.

Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation. That may take some time: the first secret talks between the United States and representatives of North Vietnam took place in 1968; the Paris Peace Accords, intended to end direct U.S. military involvement in the war, were not agreed on until 1973.

When asked for comment on the talks, a White House spokesman said that the remarks that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made last Friday at the Asia Society offered a “thorough representation of the U.S. position.” Clinton had tough words for the Taliban, saying that they were confronted with a choice between political compromise and ostracism as “an enemy of the international community.” She added, “I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets. And Richard Holbrooke made this his life’s work. He negotiated face to face with Milosevic and ended a war.”

Mullah Omar is not a participant in the preliminary talks. He does not attend even secret meetings of underground Taliban leadership councils in Pakistani safe houses. When he does speak, he does so obliquely, via cassette tapes. One purpose of the talks initiated by the Obama Administration, therefore, is to assess which figures in the Taliban’s leadership, if any, might be willing to engage in formal Afghan peace negotiations, and under what conditions.

Continue article via The New Yorker

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: