25 May 2011

Germany brokers U.S.-Taliban Talks

For the last few years now, the U.S. has been desperate to pull out its troops from Afghanistan. For this to happen, a few major things have had to happen: defeating Al-Qaeda and other terror organisations, uprooting terror networks, dismantling all terror infrastructure (like terror training camps), strengthening of Afghan security forces (incl police), and establishment of political stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

The pullout issue has gathered pace in the last 18 months and has become even urgent after the death of Osama bin Laden. Playing on the U.S. domestic political fears Pakistan has been putting forward the idea of 'Good Taliban', i.e. moderate Taliban! Now what can the the moderate version of the ultra-extremist Taliban looks like is anybody's guess.

Taking it from here, the U.S. is holding talks with the Taliban (i.e. Afghan Taliban); these talks are being brokered by Germany. 
Here's an excerpt from Der Spiegel, which has an exclusive on the U.S.-Taliban talks.
The current negotiations revolve around the question of how security and stability can be guaranteed after Western troops withdraw. The central issue is the possible establishment of permanent American military bases in the country, a development the Taliban fears and categorically rejects. 
Germany's Foreign Ministry hopes to get the Taliban to renounce violence, recognize the Afghan constitution and sever its ties to Al-Qaida. "Taliban leaders say their agenda is purely regional. [...] Unlike Al-Qaida, they don't want to establish an emirate in Washington."

A short backgrounder on Taliban
The Taliban enjoys considerable support in the frontier areas, especially in Waziristan. Many of the tribes in these areas share cultural, tribal, regional, and ideological affinity with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are also receiving support from another major source – the opium farmers in south Afghanistan who fear loss of livelihood if the Afghanistan government extends its control over these areas. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have assured protection to the drug farmers and dealers. In fact, the revenue from the illicit drug trade is one of the biggest sources of funds for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban remain active in much of southern Afghanistan. Today they are using this area to launch hit and run attacks against the Americans, as well as NATO’s ISAF, and then retreat into the safe havens in the frontier region.

The resurgence of the Taliban in the south and the northeast border with Pakistan poses a very serious threat to Afghanistan’s internal security. Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of providing arms and ammunition and safe haven to the Taliban.

The foreign forces face considerable problems in countering the Taliban. The reasons are not far to see: the Taliban know the terrain like the back of the hand and also have the backing of the local population as well as the Pakistani military and political establishment.

Pakistan's Taliban Fixation
Pakistan nurtured the Taliban because the latter furthered its cause. A long-sought aim of Islamabad has been to end the ‘two-border squeeze’, from India (in the east) and Afghanistan (in the west).

With a friendly dispensation in Kabul, which would do anything at its bidding, Pakistan did not have to worry about its western frontier. The presence of the Taliban came in handy for Pakistan as now it could focus on exporting terrorism to India. Another advantage was that Pakistan could now bundle off all terrorists, accused of terror attacks against western nations, to Afghanistan where they would find a safe haven.

When it comes to fighting the Islamists, Pakistan has always been a two-faced Janus. Even in the recent campaign against Islamist terrorists in the Swat and Waziristan regions, it has selectively targeted elements of the Pakistan Taliban while letting the Afghan Taliban go scot free. This balancing strategy makes sense from a Pakistani perspective — it is self-interested, not evil — but it creates real problems for the U.S.-ISAF effort in Afghanistan and raises the possibility of terrorism in the West. In the long run, it spells trouble for Pakistan as well. The recent Pakistan Taliban deadly attack on the PNS Mehran naval base could well be a portent of things to come for Pakistan. 

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