The next time some American official mentions they want to engage in negotiations with the Taliban, please: laugh really hard.
The Afghan government was holding secret talks with the Taliban’s No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan, and the arrest infuriated President Hamid Karzai, according to one of Karzai’s advisers.
The detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — second in the Taliban only to one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar — has raised new questions about whether the U.S. is willing to back peace discussions with leaders who harbored the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Karzai “was very angry” when he heard that the Pakistanis had picked up Baradar with an assist from U.S. intelligence, the adviser said. Besides the ongoing talks, he said Baradar had “given a green light” to participating in a three-day peace jirga that Karzai is hosting next month.
Now, some of this we knew: Pakistan will not allow this to happen in a vacuum, etc. What’s shocking is the involvement of American intelligence agents in something so glaringly counterproductive. Back when he was first captured, I said we “paid a price for this, keep an eye out for what it might be.” Now we have some idea: we stabbed our host government in the back and told the remaining senior Taliban that should they ever wish to negotiate or participate in peace talks, we will arrest and torture them.
There is a slight caveat: many insurgent leaders use the promise of negotiations as a ploy to buy breathing room and respite from fighting; Baradar is not one of those leaders, however. As a well known “moderate,” such as they exist within the senior Taliban today, he was one of the few willing to actually discuss an end to the war with the U.S. and Kabul. Even that hope is gone now—and the result is a Taliban with documented evidence that approaching the negotiation table earns one a place in an ISI prison.
This isn’t the first time American and Pakistani greed has undermined a peace process—as we’ve discussed previously, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas the U.S. has a very reliable habit ever since 2004 or so of trying to murder any Pakistani Taliban leader who sits down at the negotiation table. The Pakistanis are hardly better—if you look at the “peace deals” and temporary truces drawn up in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008, in the beginning it was Pakistan of the U.S. who violated those cease-fires, not the Pakistani Taliban. It’s only in recent years, once the Pakistani Taliban could be certain that negotiations were just a ploy meant to kill off some leaders, that they began using negotiations—which used to have an established history—as an empty ploy.
So to summarize: the United States has established a firm reputation in the AfPak area. It just isn’t a good one, considering how readily we renege on our word or lie about the prospects of peace just to grab or kill a leader here or there. The extremely halting “success” of any peace talks so far should neither surprise nor dismay us, for we are the reason they haven’t worked.