Even as the war in Afghanistan re-escalates – with the UN reporting 14% more civilian deaths in the first half of 2013 compared with 2012 – the Taliban have been holding secret talks with Afghan government officials in an effort to restart the country’s stalled peace process.
This comes in the wake of the June opening of a Taliban political office in Doha – which was supposed to lead to direct talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government, but instead collapsed for reasons that are still unclear (see PN 2559-60).
In June, the outgoing deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, general Nick Carter, told the Guardian: ‘the west should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, after they had just been toppled’.
However, as Afghanistan Analysts Network Kate Clark correctly notes: ‘it was not a lack of talking which was the problem in the early years of the intervention, but the hounding of senior and mid-level [Taliban] commanders when they were trying to go home and leave peacefully’ – including, in some cases, killing and torturing them – which helped get the insurgency off the ground.
Nonetheless, despite the US record of rebuffing the Taliban’s peace moves (see PN 2453, PN 2537 and PN 2531), Clark reports that ‘[t]here are still pragmatic members of the movement who would prefer a political settlement to trying to fight their way to power again, especially given that after 2014, their narrative of jihad will founder in intra-Afghan bloodletting.’
However, the US’s long-running insistence on maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan post-2014 (current US plans envisage keeping 8-12,000 troops in the country, for training and ‘counter-terrorism’ purposes) will have to be dropped if there is to be any hope of a settlement.
According to Associated Press, during a secret meeting in Dubai this July, a senior Taliban representative explained that while the movement’s leadership was now ‘prepared to accept women as lawmakers’, it ‘would not compromise in [its] opposition to any foreign forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014’.
US still abusing detainees
Despite officially transferring control of its Bagram airbase prison to Afghan control in March, the US apparently still takes the lead in detaining Afghans, retaining access to them for interrogation, and maintaining its own detention facility on the base – the so-called ‘Black Prison’ where sleep deprivation is allegedly practised.
A 2008 investigation by US newspaper group McClatchy found that Bagram prison became ‘a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months’ following the 2001 invasion.
Under the Obama administration the number of detainees held there mushroomed from 600 to 3,000 (it now stands at 2,500).
Following the collapse of an earlier agreement – in which the Afghan government agreed, under US pressure, to establish a system of internment (see PN 2545) – the memorandum governing the March 2013 transfer has not been released.
However, the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) has been able to build up a picture of the ongoing US role from interviews with detainees released since the handover. AAN analyst Kate Clark notes: ‘It seems the US army is still taking the lead in detaining Afghans in targeted operations – which would appear to go against [a] 2012 Night Raids Memorandum of Understanding.’
The latter states that all special operations intended to lead to detentions should be conducted by Afghans, with the US military only in a supporting role and only if requested.
Clark observes: ‘The fact that the US military is still handing over detainees and dossiers and is still conducting its own lengthy interrogations suggests they continue to be in charge of these detention operations.’