Originally Published 2012-01-24 00:00:00 Published on Jan 24, 2012
The recent US-Taliban moves offer a ray of hope for the Obama administration to achieve a much needed breakthrough before the President begins his re-election campaign.
Making sense of US-Taliban talks
The United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Marc Grossman, recently kick-started the negotiations with the Taliban. Although there is skepticism on how the talks are likely to progress, the US effort to deliver a breakthrough in the backdrop of the US presidential re-election campaign cannot be wished away.

President Barack Obama, in 2009, had outlined his counter-insurgency strategy which aimed at intensifying the pressure on the Taliban and force them to come to the negotiating table. In the last two years, this strategy has not paid the expected dividend. Besides, there is a growing realisation in US military circles that the war in Afghanistan cannot be decisively won unless the Taliban safe zones in Pakistan are not destroyed. This has become a remote possibility now, given the fast deteriorating Pakistan-US relations. Off late, the necessity of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban has become the focus of the international community. With this in mind, the US is eager to see a visible breakthrough before the NATO and G8 summits in Chicago in May 2012.

This move by the US and the Taliban has attracted criticism from several Northern Alliance members during a recent meeting with US delegates in Germany. Ahmed Rashid Dostum, Afghan Army Chief of Staff and leader of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, said that the talks could give the Taliban time to regroup and strengthen. He said the talks could have benefitted if they included anti-Taliban Afghans.

Even though concerns over Taliban intention have been voiced, the setting up of the Qatar office represents a possible way-out of the deadlock in Afghanistan. This can be derived from the statements of former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who stated that the Taliban was serious about the talks with the US. He also mentioned that the Qatar office would act as a platform for future dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Others like Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, leader of Taliban's Jaish-ul-Muslimin Movement, said the secret US-Taliban talks could lead to positive results, provided they were taken seriously by both sides.

Pakistan has also expressed willingness to be included in the Afghan negotiation process. Pakistan Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that without including Afghanistan and Pakistan, the talks with the Taliban would not deliver a positive outcome. He suggested constituting a high powered joint-dialogue committee to hold effective and consequential talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan's offer to engage the Taliban in dialogue has also received a positive nod from the Afghan High Peace Council. This change in outlook between the two nations comes at a time when they are being increasingly sidelined by the US to engage with the Taliban.

The recent US-Taliban moves offer a ray of hope for the Obama administration to achieve a much needed breakthrough before the President begins his re-election campaign.

(Haripal Singh Brar is a research intern at Observer Research Foundation)

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