On Monday Richard Holbrooke, who is President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the U.S. is now involved in indirect discussions with the Afghan Taliban, the Daily Times of Pakistan reported.[1]  --  The Pakistani newspaper Dawn said Tuesday that "Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies" are acting as intermediaries.[2]  --  An unnamed source involved in the secret negotiations said that "one of the main objectives of the recent visit to Pakistan by CIA chief Leon Panetta was to assess progress in the back-channel negotiations," Azaz Syed reported.  --  The source named four figures involved in the negotiations.  --  The paper also reported that "Reliable sources also told Dawn that Mullah Umar, the chief of Afghan Taliban, has nominated his shadow foreign minister, Agha Motasam, to negotiate with the Americans.  They said that talks held so far were of a preliminary nature, but may resume on a serious note after Eid [Eid al-Adha, a Muslim commemoration of Ibrahim (Abraham)'s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael (Ishmael) that comes on Nov. 27-30 this year]."  --  American media are reporting this news much more obliquely; see, for example, the report in Voice of America News on Monday, which reported that the U.S. is "is supportive of Saudi efforts -- requested by President Karzai -- to broker peace contacts between the Afghan sides."[3]  --  NPR's All Things Considered spoke only vaguely of "a plan to woo the Taliban" on Monday, highlighting the role that British Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb is playing.[4]



Daily Times (Pakistan)
November 24, 2009


LAHORE -- The United States is not directly talking to the Afghan Taliban, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said on Monday.  He said elections in Afghanistan were not perfect but Washington would continue to support the Afghan government, adding that the U.S. was not in direct contact with the Afghan Taliban.  Holbrooke said US would support composite dialogue between Pakistan and India but will not act as a mediator, a private news channel reported on Monday.



By Azaz Syed

Dawn (Pakistan)
November 24, 2009


ISLAMABAD -- After fighting a bloody war in Afghanistan for more than eight years, the United States appears to have undertaken a re-think of its policy and has started engaging the Taliban in negotiations through Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies, highly-placed sources told Dawn here on Monday.

‘We have started ‘engagement’ with the Afghan Taliban and are hopeful that our efforts will bear fruit,’ a source involved in secret negotiations told this correspondent.

He said that four ‘major neutral players’ were engaged with the Afghan Taliban on behalf of the Saudi leadership and the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani leadership and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

The GID and ISI have been doing the job on behalf of the U.S. government and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The source said that one of the main objectives of the recent visit to Pakistan by CIA chief Leon Panetta was to assess progress in the back-channel negotiations.

The source said that four leaders were playing the role of mediators on behalf of the Saudis and the Afghan Taliban.

Among them is Abdullah Anas, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam who was killed in Peshawar in 1989 along with his two sons.  Anas lives in the U.K., but maintains close links with the Afghan Taliban and even Al Qaida.

Saudi national Abul Hassan Madni, once a prominent leader of Rabta-i-Alam-i-Islami, has also been in the picture.  He lives in Madina.

Abu Jud Mehmood Samrai, an Iraqi who is married to a Pakistani woman, has also been contacted.  He was given Pakistani nationality by former president Ziaul Haq for his role in the Afghan war.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a Pakistani militant leader, is also in the loop.  Khalil, who co-founded the Harkatul Ansar, currently heads Hizbul Mujahideen.

He had signed the famous decree issued by Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri in 1998 calling for killing the Americans.  Khalil commands respect among both Pakistani and Afghani Taliban and is said to have played a secret mediatory role with Pakistani authorities for peace in the country.

Reliable sources also told Dawn that Mullah Umar, the chief of Afghan Taliban, has nominated his shadow foreign minister, Agha Motasam, to negotiate with the Americans.  They said that talks held so far were of a preliminary nature, but may resume on a serious note after Eid.




By David Gollust

Voice of America News
November 23, 2009


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the United States is open to the prospect of Afghan government peace talks with elements of the Taliban, but she advised Kabul officials to proceed cautiously.  Clinton spoke in advance of another top-level White House meeting convened by President Obama on whether he should send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is giving a cautious nod of approval to possible peace contacts between the Kabul government and Taliban factions, as it nears a decision on whether to add as many as 40,000 troops to the Afghan war effort.

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that the Afghan leader, newly sworn in to a second term in office, might invite Taliban elements and other militant opponents of the government to a Loya Jirga, or grand council meeting, aimed at bringing peace and reconciliation to the war-torn country.

At a press event with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Rumiana Zheleva, Clinton said the United States backs the concept of outreach to the Taliban, but that Kabul authorities should proceed with caution.

"Obviously, we are going to ask questions about how it proceeds," said Hillary Clinton. "But the general idea of exploring this is one that we have been open to.  With respect to the outcome of any such discussions, however, we have urged caution and real standards that are expected to be met by anyone who is engaged in these conversations, so that whatever process there is can actually further the stability and peace of Afghanistan, not undermine it."

In a separate press event here, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke said the United States has had no direct contact with the Taliban but that it is supportive of Saudi efforts -- requested by President Karzai -- to broker peace contacts between the Afghan sides.

Holbrooke, who accompanied Clinton on her trip to Afghanistan for Mr. Karzai's swearing-in last week, said U.S. terms for dealing with Taliban supporters remain the same as when the secretary outlined them in a policy speech in July.

"She laid out the conditions by which the U.S. believes people fighting with the Taliban can rejoin, reintegrate into Afghan society," said Richard Holbrooke. "And the first point she mentioned was renounce al-Qaida.  Remember and never forget, we are in Afghanistan because of 9/11 [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States].  And the other thing was to renounce violence and to lay down their arms and participate in life peacefully.  In fact, many, many Taliban have done that since 2002."

The length of the Obama administration's review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers and others as a reflection of top-level indecision.  But Holbrooke said the care being given to the issue is to be commended, not criticized.

"This is the most thorough, most sustained, most thoughtful process I have ever seen," he said. "And over the long course of it, we have all learned a great deal from each other, in a way which I think is exactly the way decisions should be made."

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday the President could announce his decision on Afghan troop levels as soon as next week. 


All things considered


National Public Radio
November 23, 2009


If you can't beat them, get them to join you.  That's the idea behind a new effort by the Afghan government and the U.S. military to win over low-level insurgents and split them from their Taliban leaders.

Eight years have elapsed since the U.S. and other forces invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government.  This year, those forces suffered more losses than at any time since the conflict began.

Military measures have failed to stem a rising insurgency.  So the Afghan government and its Western allies are exploring other ideas -- including a grass-roots effort similar to the "Sons Of Iraq" program that wooed Sunni Muslims away from the Iraqi insurgency.

British Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb played a leading role in devising the program in Iraq.  Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently persuaded Lamb to abandon his retirement plans and attempt the same feat in Afghanistan.

But Lamb says the two war zones are different.

"In Iraq, I had fighters on both sides.  I had Shiite militia on one side, and I had Sunni insurgents on the other.  Here, one seems to have this rather crude analysis where people talk about the Taliban as a single entity, which of course is a complete misunderstanding of those forces that are placed against us," Lamb says.


Lamb stresses that he has come to Afghanistan to assist President Hamid Karzai and his government, and that the Afghans are taking the lead on the initiative to lure insurgents with job opportunities and other incentives.

Last week, Karzai was sworn in for a second term.  In his inaugural address, he appealed to militants to return home, renounce violence and accept the country's constitution.

Lamb says Karzai has long advocated reintegrating militants.  "President Karzai, from his very first inauguration speech right till now, he's been absolutely consistent.  We have not listened and worked out how we can support that intent," Lamb says.

When they go to war, governments use certain words to describe their enemies.  They call them evil and describe them as fanatics, terrorists, and criminals.  When making peace, they must rehumanize their foes.

That's what Lamb does when he talks about low-level militants.  Lamb says he believes most militants are not driven by ideology.  Some fight because they believe foreign forces have come to occupy their lands forever, while others fight because of personal grievances.

"I think there are many who will fight well for a bad cause," says Lamb.  "Or for a misunderstanding, a misapprehension.  Some for a dollar.  Some because it's cool.  Some because it's an opportunity to feed a family.  Some because they enjoy it.  There's a range of complex reasons," he says.

"This was exactly the case in Iraq.  They had personal grievances, where we had killed their families or their friends or their fathers or their brothers -- whatever the case may be.  What we needed to do was establish a point of dialogue," he says.


Afghans have a term for insurgents -- "upset brothers" -- words that Lamb particularly likes.  "I think it is a very helpful term," he says.

On a recent afternoon, a small group of heavily bearded Afghan men awaits lunch in a run-down mansion in Kabul that is now the headquarters of Afghanistan's Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

Haji Fazi Ahmed Tolwak, a commission official, points to a heap of well-worn Kalashnikov rifles stacked on an oriental rug beneath the chandeliers.

Tolwak says the men have just turned themselves into the commission.

One of the men, portly and middle-aged, says his name is Noor Mohammed.  Fiddling nervously with his worry beads, he claims he is a Taliban fighter, but that he is quitting because he's tired of it.

The commission has paid him $100 to cover his transportation costs and is going to find him work.

"But we didn't surrender for the money," Mohammed insists.  "I just don't want to see this country destroyed anymore."

The commission claims it has processed 8,000 militants in the past few years.  But many people are not convinced that this is true.  There are stories of Taliban surrendering one day, and then changing their minds.

Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil is one of the commission's greatest critics.  He was Afghanistan's foreign minister when the Taliban was in power.

He says the commission has no authority, and he doesn't think that many Taliban will agree to stop fighting.


"I think the Taliban don't trust this.  They think there is no willingness for peace.  Everything happening now shows signs of war, like new troops coming and militias forming.  This reduces the chance of reconciliation," he says.

Mutawakil doubts the militants will deal with an Afghan government widely seen as weak and corrupt.  He thinks there's even less chance if the U.S. sends many more troops.

President Obama is weighing a request from McChrystal for 40,000 more U.S. troops, which would raise the total American force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000.

The Taliban leadership has already rejected reconciliation and direct negotiations with the Afghan government unless the international forces first withdraw.

But that hasn't deterred Lamb from trying to win over their foot soldiers.

"There are 34,000 villages in this country.  Eighty percent of the population live in the rural community.  What we have to do is make sure some of these young men have the opportunity to improve their life.  We look at literacy, we look at some of the skills training, we look at some of the opportunities that exist in the country," Lamb says.

Lamb says the Afghan and U.S. governments won't talk to Taliban officials directly linked to al-Qaida and international terrorism.  But he says it seems they will talk to just about everyone else.

"On the fact that someone has, and the phrase that's often used, 'blood on their hands,' you know, we have all got blood on our hands," Lamb says.  "So one needs to just get through that."