On another moonlit runway every month these days, another bearded man is hustled aboard a military jet. He is an ‘intermediary’ from the Taliban and is about to be flown many hours before sitting down for another chance to talk about ending this war.
As Spiegel reported this week, Germany is one country that his hosting very preliminary “peace talks” in a hope of ending a war in Afghanistan that has cost so many lives. It’s not the only show in town. According to intelligence officials and senior diplomats I’ve interviewed, various “representatives” of the Taliban movement have also been flown to Norway and to Turkey in parallel tracks.
Fresh impetus to this process has been given by President Obama. As terrorism analyst Peter Bergen reports, a little-noticed shift of US policy has all but abandoned pre-conditions for talks to start.
Bergen is sceptical the Taliban is ready for talks – or, citing Pakistani truces with the Talban in its tribal areas, he argues they cannot be trusted anyway.
But while I judge the Taliban is becoming ever more extreme (despite attempts to argue the opposite by former Taliban ambassador Mullah Zaeef and indeed by Mullah Omar himself), if the White House is serious about a peace process, as I believe it is, then the critical question is what path could be chosen that could firstly make the Taliban less extreme and therefore an acceptable partner in a future accord and secondly make the peace process acceptable to the Taliban itself. (more…)