The danger of talking with the Taliban
June 28th, 2013
08:39 AM ET

The danger of talking with the Taliban

By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on South Asia and the Middle East. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The opening of a Taliban office in Qatar prompted fresh optimism over the prospect of a political settlement being reached that could end the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. and Afghan governments hoped that the insurgent group would agree to renounce violence, cut ties with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution. The Taliban, however, clearly had a different agenda, using the occasion as a publicity stunt to present itself as an alternative government and gain international credibility. And its approach sent shockwaves across Afghanistan.

At the inauguration ceremony in Doha, Taliban representatives reportedly played their official anthem, hoisted their white flag and placed an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” nameplate outside their embassy-like building. Feeling betrayed by the U.S. and Qatari governments, Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost immediately announced he was boycotting the talks and suspended planned negotiations with Washington over a bilateral security agreement that lays out the legal framework for post-2014 American military presence in Afghanistan. Since then, the peace talks have been placed on hold.

As a result, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s conciliatory phone conversations with President Karzai, and Presidents Obama and Karzai on Tuesday “reaffirming” their support for talks with the Taliban, any negotiations are unlikely to produce something tangible.

More from GPS: Are Afghans ready to take over security?

This should not come as a surprise. In recent years, both the Karzai and Obama administrations have aggressively tried to engage the Taliban diplomatically to end the war, but the militant group has simply responded by stepping up violence. President Karzai’s unilateral concessions – such as freeing hundreds of Taliban prisoners as a “gesture of goodwill” and alleged promising of senior government positions to Taliban leaders – have failed to encourage the militants to make peace. Indeed, hours after opening the Qatar office, the Taliban killed four American service members near the Bagram Air Base. And on Tuesday, a group of Taliban gunmen launched a brazen attack on the Presidential Palace and a nearby CIA office in Kabul.

All this suggests that with most foreign troops set to leave Afghanistan within the next 18 months, the Taliban now has even less incentive to lay down arms and join the peace process. So why is it negotiating now? There are a number of reasons.

First, if direct talks take place, the Taliban is expected to push for the release of five senior operatives held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a captive American soldier. The insurgents understand that President Obama is intent on closing the controversial prison and hope to free their comrades without having to offer substantial concessions in return.

Second, the Taliban’s current strategy appears to be to wait until the coalition forces leave next year and then try to topple the Kabul government. Until then, it will continue suicide attacks in Kabul and other populated areas to project power and undermine the Afghan government. And by simply making vague promises, the Taliban is no doubt trying to persuade Washington to speed up troop withdrawal and decide against keeping any residual forces in the country after 2014.

Third, the Qatar office helps the Taliban bolster its international credibility and gives its members more freedom of action. The Taliban has already exploited diplomacy to try to alter its image from a terrorist group into an internationally recognized armed opposition movement. Once blacklisted by the United Nations and confined to hideouts in Pakistan, many Taliban leaders now freely travel from the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Islamabad to Middle Eastern nations, including Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, a delegation of senior Taliban members flew from Qatar to Iran on an official visit, which the Taliban website hailed as “a diplomatic coup d'état against the Kabul government.” Taliban representatives also use the office as an operational headquarters to raise funds in the Gulf region; establish ties with other radical groups; and spread their propaganda through the international media. Afghan officials say the militant group also plans to open offices in other regional countries.

It is therefore clear that Washington and Kabul should be extremely cautious about peace talks and wary of the Taliban’s motives. A political solution to end the Afghan war is desirable, but a short-sighted deal with the insurgents could undo the hard-won gains of the past decade and serve as a recipe for another civil war in the country. Unless the Taliban halts violence and enters into a meaningful negotiation with the Afghan government, Washington should ask the Qatari government to close its office immediately and expel its members.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Taliban • Terrorism

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soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. edna aquino

    Here is our (Women Living Under Muslim Laws) statement on the subject.

    June 28, 2013 at 9:02 am | Reply
  2. Towel Heads

    Stupid Towel Heads living in the 12th century. That's why we can't trust them.

    June 28, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  3. Foreal

    By negotiating with terrorists, Obama is doing a disservice to all our soldiers who rendered a lot of sacrifice in the past ten years.

    June 28, 2013 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      The Taliban is as fractionalised as fickle. It's unclear whether the spiritual leader Mullah Omar is still alive and has control over all insurgent groups, who also fall out with regional warlords, apart from combating the Western-led Afghan forces.
      No doubt those, who claim themselves to be Taliban envoys in Doha want to follow in the Hezbollah's footsteps and to be taken seriously as a political force in Afghanistan. But they aren't as savvy as the Hezbollah, whose political arm wins hearts and minds of many in Lebanon, thanks to its social engagement.

      June 29, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        please read: which also fall out with regional warlords, apart from combating the Western-led ANA, the Afghan National Army.
        Karzai is furious over the Taliban office in Doha and Pakistan is said to have played a role in it. The Taliban refuses to deal with Karzai and seed him as a US-puppet. Yet it is ready to talk to the Americans only for the reason that it wants the release of five of its senior members detained at Guantanamo.

        June 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
      • Afghan

        You're absolutely right.

        June 29, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  4. Stephen Swain

    Those people, as General Lee called the Union forces, and as I will choose to call "the Taliban", which is hardly more than a loosely organized gang of thieves, murderers, self-immolating fanatics, are not to be trusted except in one respect:

    They will say anything to get the foreigners to leave. Then, armed with the new weapons those very foreigners have started channeling in through Syria, they will dig more pits in the soccer stadium in Kabul (and elsewhere) and start stoning women and men to death for any number of behaviors that THEY have also practiced but won't admit.

    What folly to "negotiate" with these people. What absolute folly!

    June 28, 2013 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • JamesT

      You couldn't have said it better. Clinton negotiated with the Taliban in the 1990s and we suffered 9/11 as a consequence of it. These murderers, fanatics can't be trusted.

      June 28, 2013 at 11:19 am | Reply
      • pam

        A scorpion is always a scorpion. Would you give a scorpion an office?

        July 2, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  5. Din

    I don't think there will be any solution for this conflict other than bringing Taliban to the table to discuss. Our Army was there for last 12 years with advanced technology, drones, missiles, and soldier on ground but Taliban are still in existence and threat to country. If they don't become part of Afghan political system they will become government after US and Coalition forces leaves Afghanistan.

    June 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Reply
    • James56

      Then, al Qaeda will come back with the Taliban, reestablish bases and try to attack us.

      June 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  6. Din

    Talibans are sunni muslims provide them safe channels to go to Syria and do Jihad - Talibans are happy when are in the war, believe me all of them will go Syria.

    June 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  7. Rob Wilson

    Kill them all O bummer do not Negotiate with them shut down their Office in Qatar what a joke this has been to the USA here we are trying to Negotiate with Terrorist we need to wipe them off the Map and i Mean Now you are wasting your time talking to them don't you no this is just a ploy for them to get Recognition..........Put the Drones on Their Ass

    June 29, 2013 at 12:31 am | Reply
  8. rightospeak

    There is no other option. What danger ? To stop war profiteering ?

    June 29, 2013 at 8:51 am | Reply
    • Corrales

      Yes, you do have the right to speak. But try to use it in a meaningful way. Don't see everything as a conspiracy. And yes, people have landed on the moon. And 9/11 wasn't an inside job.

      June 29, 2013 at 9:10 am | Reply
      • rightospeak

        Paid by CNN to tell people what to think, Corrales , and rain on their parades ?

        June 30, 2013 at 5:14 am |
      • Beefburger

        You seem to neglect the fact that it is a former general and US President Eisenhower that gave us the warning about the "military industrial complex". I think words from someone of that caliber should be taken to heart more than those of Jessie Ventura.

        July 6, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • Corrales

      The danger is that if we withdraw in a hasty manner or make a deal with the Taliban to allow them to rule in parts of that country, then there will be civil war and al Qaeda will come back. Do you remember that country before 9/11? If so, it'll be the same.

      July 2, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  9. Igal

    The Taliban are snakes

    June 29, 2013 at 9:36 am | Reply
    • Corrales

      I think snakes would be offended by your comments 🙂

      June 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  10. Walter Sieruk

    Yes there is danger in "talking " with the Taliban . For the Taliban have worked very hard to prove by their own actions, time and time again, that they are a group of vicious ,ruthless thugs with no honor and will only keep their word in anything that they might promise only as long as it sould suit them and no longer. In any so called "negotiations" the Taliban will be very disingenous and will dissimulate. As Sun Tzu explained in THE ARE OF WAR "We cannot enter into an alliance ith neighboring princes untill we are acquainted with their designs.' To put this in a more currwent and updated way, it may be said "We cannot enter into an alliance ith the Taliban untill we are acquainted with their designs. With the Taliban we all may be sure that their intentions are evil.

    June 29, 2013 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Washington Insider

      Very well said!

      June 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  11. maryam

    Taliban: Its very sad that such humans exist that only see one way...THEIR way for others. Believing that its Allahs will to impose such hatred and violence in order to achieve their goals and sharia over the people. They need to know that people can be moral and conservative without religion too. A country has laws to protect all the people, not impose rules which ultimately hurt the people in violence and unfairness.If they truly embrace Islam and believe its a peaceful religion with a peace loving God who loves all of his people, then they will allow the people to build their country up in peaceful, loving ways with dialogue, not with hatred and destruction. Americans care about those good Afghani people, and Taliban need to change their ways if they truly want to be a part of a good society. I hope they are listening, I hope they see that MOST people in democratic societies who do obey the laws, are very moral. God will judge us as individuals, and by our behaviors. THEY are not God, its not their place to judge anyone.Even non believers live with good morals. But its not up to them to control the people using religion, because their violence only serves themselves(and GOD will judge them for it), it doesnt serve Allah.

    June 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • Afghan

      I wish the Taliban were as smart as you.

      June 29, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • James A Young

      Gee... as I read you post I was sure you were describing the Republican Party.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  12. foxtrottcharly

    This war can't be won, never ever. The history has proved that so many times. This war was a big mistake from the beginning. It was never about human rights nor terror, it was just about money and resources. There is no other solution than negotiating with the Taliban.

    July 1, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • Corrales

      Here we go again. Yet another conspiracy theorist. Do you remember a 9/11 attacks?

      July 2, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
      • Beefburger

        Forget "Big Oil" I would be thinking that this is more over the popy fields. "Big Pharmacy" is going to need TONS of opiates for an aging U.S.and Chinese population.

        July 6, 2013 at 6:09 am |
  13. philipjbaker1952

    Negotiating with the Taliban will not work their only objective is to control without mercy and to kill all those they see as an enemy which is all those who don't follow their deadly way of life. They love to torture and kill women who even look at a man .They probably live in fear of each other . They probably laugh at those who try to negotiate with them just like Hitler while you talk peace with them they are planning their next attack.

    July 2, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
  14. The astute observer

    Taliban means student.They are no worse than other Islamist jihadists.
    At least they eliminated the heroin trade when they were in power.
    One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
    Case in point:the IRA.

    July 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • Afghan

      Maybe you should change your name to STUPID OBSERVER

      July 3, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Reply
    • Beefburger

      "...eliminated the heroin trade..." Which "Big Pharmacy" does not want to see happen. Drug manufacturers will be set to make several dynasties' worth of fortunes with a constant 1/3 of the population of both the U.S. and China to be classified as elderly over the next several decades.

      July 6, 2013 at 6:16 am | Reply
  15. Hank

    There is nothing wrong with the Taliban that several AC-130 Spectres can't fix.

    July 4, 2013 at 1:01 am | Reply
  16. David

    Talking to the Taliban betrays our soldiers and the victims of 911. It was a total mistake to spend 10+ years trying to nation build in Afghanistan. We have to learn to make the harboring of terrorist groups very painful and expensive to the nation that does so. Destroy their armed forces, destroy their economies, if they do. Spending years and years in a country that doesn't want to fight themselves for their own freedom is a waste of our young person's lives and a waste of our tax dollars. Did the we obtain our objectives (if there were any?) Are we safer for the money and the dollars spent? I don't think so. In the end, I believe our nation has been weakened. It is a travesty to see people begging on street corners, putting families through economic hardship to make ends meet , and loosing the ability to get well paying jobs. The money expended could be put to a lot better use than it was for the betterment of the U.S. It is time to start putting the United States first.

    July 4, 2013 at 10:56 am | Reply
  17. PBUH

    Taliban will never go away as long as mother Pakistan ISI keeps breeding Taliban.

    July 5, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  18. The Maeven

    I'd be happy to talk to the Taliban. These are the conditions for our not annihilating you. Burn all Korans. Do not abuse, torture and kill women and children. Turn over all those of you who have broken the laws of the land. Move all remaining proponents of your pedophile "prophet" Mohammed and retreat to the mountains of Afganistan, Your appearance within 20 miles of any hamlet is punishable by death. Any questions?

    July 6, 2013 at 8:53 am | Reply
    • Pakistani

      Yes. The questions are:

      1. Have you gone to school?
      2. Why have your parents failed to teach you manners and humanity?
      3. Do you need medical help?

      July 7, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Reply
  19. William Wilvgus

    The danger of talking to the Taliban is NOTHING compared to the danger of NOT TALKING to them. If any of you that are reading this need to have it explained, you probably wouldn't grasp the point. Therefore, agree or not.

    July 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Reply

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