Afghanistan: peace talks not yet dead

IssueNovember 2011

The brother of famed anti-Taliban guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud – who was assassinated days before the 9/11 attacks – told the Guardian: “This absolutely shows that peace with the Taliban is dead ... It doesn’t work. It can’t work.”

Others were less hasty to rush to judgement. For example, former EU envoy to Afghanistan Michael Semple – a world-renowned expert on the Taliban – noted that the assassination was “directly contrary” to the moderate tone recently adopted by the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar.

In August, in what Telegraph reporter Ahmed Rashid described as the “most forward-looking political message he ha[d] ever sent”, Omar issued an Eid message in which he acknowledged contacts with the US and raised the possibility of a future power-sharing deal.

According to Rashid – an enthusiastic advocate of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan – this was “a clear message to [Omar’s] fighters that further political talks are a possibility”.

World backs talks

Negotiating an end to the war has long been the option favoured by the majority of ordinary Afghans (see PN 2530), and a 24-nation GlobeScan / PIPA poll conducted between October 2010 and February 2011 found that in all of the countries surveyed (including the US and Britain) most people supported either withdrawing NATO troops immediately or negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban that would include them in the government.

In a 30 September – 2 October poll by ComRes (which did not ask about negotiations) 57% of Britons favoured the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan, with 58% agreeing that the “threat of terrorism on British soil is increased by British forces remaining in Afghanistan.

One month after Rabbani’s assassination,“Nothing, apart from the assumption that the plot appears to have been hatched in Quetta on Pakistani soil, would appear to justify pointing the finger of blame at the Taleban leadership or [Pakistan’s intelligence service] – although there is no evidence, either, that they are innocent” (Kate Clark, senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network).

In other words, the evidence still suggests that meaningful peace talks are possible if and when the US chooses to take this option seriously (see PN 2537).