Speaking in Islamabad on Friday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the Taliban part of the "political fabric" of Afghanistan, AFP reported Saturday.[1]  --  It's true that at the same time Gates called the Taliban a "scourgre" and "cancer," saying of its various factions that they are "all insidious, and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated," the Washington Post reported,[2] but much of this is mere rhetoric; there continue to be many signs that the U.S. and its proxies are willing to cut a deal with moderate Taliban factions.  --  Next week Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be seeking international financing at a conference in London to pay Taliban fighters to put down their arms and support national reconstruction under his leadership, the BBC reported on Thursday.[3]  --  Ahmed Rashid's analysis in a recent number of the New York Review of Books arguing that the Taliban will negotiate now if they are wise because they find themselves at a moment of maximum influence was the subject of Reuters news article on Friday.[4] ...



Agence France-Presse
January 23, 2010


ISLAMABAD -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday described the Taliban as part of the "political fabric" of Afghanistan, but said any future role for it would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is planning an ambitious Western-backed reconciliation package aimed at tempting fighters away from their Taliban masters by offering money and jobs to draw them back to civilian life.

"The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families," Dr. Gates said in Pakistan yesterday.

"The question is what do the Taliban want to make out of Afghanistan?  When they tried before, we saw before what they wanted to make and it was a desert, culturally and every other way."

Mr. Karzai said the major powers would fund his new scheme to tempt Taliban fighters to lay their weapons aside and head home to their communities and integrate into legitimate society.




ISLAMABAD -- On his first trip here in three years, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had a hard time making up his mind about the Taliban.

During a series of speeches and interviews, Gates lumped all Taliban factions into the same category, calling them a "scourge" and a "cancer" that colludes with al-Qaeda and other extremist groups along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  He urged Pakistani leaders to show no mercy to Taliban militias operating in their territory, even ones the country has long regarded as helpful to its interests.

"You can't say one's good and one's not good," he told Pakistan's Express TV. "They're all insidious, and safe havens for all of them need to be eliminated."

But Gates repeatedly said the Taliban is around to stay.  He said cutting a deal with some Taliban commanders is the only way to bring a stable government and lasting peace to Afghanistan.

"Political reconciliation ultimately has to be a part of settling the conflict," he told journalists Friday at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.  "The Taliban," he added, "we recognize are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point."

Gates's remarks on the Taliban were met with skepticism during his two-day visit.

Pakistan's chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, told reporters traveling with Gates that it was wrong for the Pentagon chief to lump all groups affiliated with the Taliban under the same banner.  Some are fighting for different causes, he said, and pose different threats.  "The answer can't be in black and white."

Despite U.S. prodding, Abbas also said the Pakistani army had no imminent plans to crack down on Taliban leaders hiding in the border city of Quetta or the tribal area of North Waziristan.  He said that the army is embroiled in other counterinsurgency operations and that Pakistani public opinion does not support an expansion of the fight.

Imtiaz Gul, chairman of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said Gates's comments about the Taliban were unlikely to persuade many Pakistani listeners.

"Herein lies this contradiction and duplicity on the part of U.S. policy," he said.  "Are they a cancer or part of the political fabric?  You can't apply this principle selectively."

He said that after years of cultivating Islamist groups, Pakistan's military leadership had soured on many of them.  But he said Pakistan draws a clear distinction between Taliban fighters who cross the border to fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and those fueling a rebellion at home.

"We shouldn't simplify things the way Mr. Gates tries to put it.  Yes, there are connections between these different groups, but they have different motivations," Gul said.  "There is a minimum common denominator that binds them together, and that's anti-Americanism."

Gates said the purpose of his trip was to reassure Pakistan's civilian and military leaders about the United States' long-term commitment to the region after a decade of neglect in the 1990s.

In a speech to Pakistani military officers, he said the United States had "largely abandoned Afghanistan" after the Soviet Union ended its occupation in 1989.  He also said severing defense ties with Pakistan in the early 1990s, prompted by Islamabad's nuclear testing program, "was a grave strategic mistake."

Gates also said some of the Taliban warlords the United States is pressing Pakistan to crack down on are the same ones whom the CIA and Pakistani intelligence backed against the Soviets in the 1980s, when Gates was deputy director of the agency.

"Frankly, we all had links with various groups that are now a problem for us today," he said in the Pakistani TV interview.  "And some have maintained those links longer than others."



By John Simpson

BBC News
January 21, 2010


Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told the BBC he plans to introduce a scheme to attract Taliban fighters back to normal life by offering money and jobs.

He would offer to pay and resettle Taliban fighters to come over to his side, with the scheme funded by the international community.

He said the U.K. and U.S. would show at a conference next week in London that they had decided to back his new plan.

Japan is one of the countries which, he said, is prepared to put up the money.

The Taliban currently pay their volunteers, who are often just farmers, significantly more than the Afghan government can afford to give its forces.

President Karzai said the Afghan people had to have peace at any price.

War was not the only way forward and there had to be proper peace activity and reconciliation.

Previously, he said, Britain, the U.S., and other Western countries had not been happy about the idea.  Now they had changed their minds.

He stressed that Taliban supporters who were members of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks would not be accepted.  But anyone who accepted the Afghan constitution and did not have an ideological opposition to it could return.


Doing deals with his enemies is a bold approach, but as President Karzai enters his second term of office he knows he must get an agreement.

Many of his own people, as well as the Western powers, regard him as a lame-duck president.

In the past, his ability to run Afghanistan has been limited by the powers of the warlords, and by the high level of corruption.

With considerable frankness, he accepted that there was some truth in this.

"Yes," he said, "my presidency is weak in regard to the means of power, which means money, which means equipment, which means manpower, which means capacity."

The clear implication was that if he got these things, he could start to run the country as he wanted.

If there was agreement at next week's conference in London, Afghanistan would be in a position to run its own affairs.

In five years, he said, Afghanistan could be controlling its own security and leading the fight in the country against corruption and the drugs industry.

But he is still smarting from the heavy criticism he got from the Americans and British about the way last August's presidential election was run.  He insists it was a concerted effort by the West to undermine him.

"Unfortunately our election was very seriously mistreated by our Western allies," he said.

Now, though, he had to depend on them to help him.  Could he trust them?

"We trust them because we are in a relationship together," he replied.

President Karzai angrily rejected a suggestion earlier this week by a U.N. agency that nearly a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP was swallowed up by corruption.

Nevertheless, he said, "if you expect us to be a First World country, you are making a mistake."



By Robert Birsel

January 22, 2010


ISLAMABAD -- The Taliban have spread across Afghanistan and are inflicting sharply higher casualties but they might be persuaded to negotiate, with Pakistani help, as they reach the height of their power, a Pakistani analyst has said.

The United States is sending an extra 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan nine years after driving the Taliban from power but U.S. commanders realize they "cannot shoot their way to victory," analyst Ahmed Rashid said in [a] paper.

"Despite their successes, the Taliban are probably now near the height of their power," Rashid, a prominent expert on Afghanistan, said in the paper published in the latest issue of the *New York Review of Books*.

While a country-wide movement, the Taliban do not control population centers, nor will they, given the strength of U.S.-led NATO forces, he said.

At the same time, there was no populist insurrection against NATO forces and the majority of Afghans did not want the return of the Taliban despite anger with the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, he said.

"Thus, the next few months could offer a critical opportunity to persuade the Taliban that this is the best time to negotiate a settlement, because they are at their strongest," Rashid said.

The Taliban, led by the reclusive Mullah Mohammad Omar, have shown the first hint of flexibility, Rashid said, beginning with a statement in November.

"The Taliban leader . . . pledged that a future Taliban regime would bring peace and noninterference from outside forces, and would pose no threat to neighboring countries -- implying that al Qaeda would not be returning," he said.

The new tone could be traced to secret talks in early 2009, sponsored by Saudi Arabia at Karzai's request, he said.  The talks brought no breakthrough, but led to visits to Saudi Arabia by important Taliban leaders.

U.S., British, and Saudi officials who were indirectly in contact with the Taliban there encouraged them to renounce al-Qaeda and lay out negotiating demands.

"The Taliban said that distancing themselves from al-Qaeda would require the other side to meet a principal demand of their own:  that all foreign forces must announce a timetable to leave."

U.S. President Barack Obama said in December he planned to start bringing soldiers home in 18 months.


Pakistan's main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which nurtured the Taliban through the 1990s, had been left out of the talks at the request of both the Taliban and the Afghan government, neither of whom trusted it, Rashid said.

"That now may be about to change," Rashid said.  "The key to more formal negotiations with Taliban leaders lies with Pakistan and the ISI."

Pakistan is fearful of India's influence in Afghanistan and of U.S. forces withdrawing and leaving the country in chaos, while it is also friendless in Afghanistan apart from the Taliban, even though they are wary of the ISI.

Pakistan realized the West would never tolerate it backing a Taliban takeover of Kabul, as happened in 1996, Rashid said.

"In a major policy shift, senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials say they have offered to help broker talks between Taliban leaders, the Americans, and Karzai."

The ISI has power and influence over the Taliban as the Taliban resupply their fighters from Pakistan, seek medical treatment there and based most leaders' families there.

Crucial to reconciliation with the Taliban would be the agreement of Afghanistan's non-Pashtun ethnic groups, who make up just over half the population.  Talks also needed a strategy to build political institutions and provide aid, he said.

"Unless such publicly announced policies are carried out, the Taliban may well conclude that it is better and safer to sit out the next 18 months, wait for the Americans to start leaving, and then, when they judge Afghanistan to be vulnerable, go for the kill in Kabul."