Saudi prince says Taliban leader could be U.S. ally

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Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal on Sunday recommended that the Obama administration work with a top Taliban leader who is behind suicide attacks in Afghanistan and was the likely target of a U.S. missile strike just last fall.

Jalaluddin Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to … to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., told a group of about 80 government and business leaders and journalists over dinner in Washington.

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush, also urged the U.S. to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, during remarks following Prince Turki’s.

But Prince Turki’s suggestion that the U.S. work with Haqqani is ironic since the warlord has been surviving in war-torn Afghanistan for decades now by shifting allegiances at opportune times. He was in the employ of the CIA during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, was a member of the Afghan government that was in power after the Soviets left, and then switched his allegiance to the Taliban as they rose to power in the mid-90’s.

Haqqani is also rumored to have helped al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden escape to Pakistan and to have helped introduce suicide bombings as an insurgent tactic in Afghanistan.

Vice President Joe Biden, however, said in March (more detail here) that the U.S. is going to be looking for ways it could possibly negotiate with members of the Taliban who are motivated by money and not by extreme Islamic ideology.

But Prince Turki’s comment is also ironic because of the setting in which the comment was made. He was speaking at a dinner organized by Steve Clemons, blogger at The Washington Note and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

Some of what we know about Haqqani comes from writing by the New America Foundation’s president and CEO, Steve Coll, a New Yorker writer who has published two books on this topic: “Ghost Wars” and “The Bin Ladens.”

You can read the transcript of a PBS interview with Coll, talking about Haqqani, here, and you can watch a Frontline video on the warlord here.

In his interview, Coll said Haqqani was viewed by the CIA as “an independent-minded, dangerous man, but someone we could do business with.”

“Haqqani received a great deal of support,” Coll said.

Prince Turki’s comment on Sunday came when Clemons looked at him and said, “Rumor has it that you know the Taliban rather well.”

“My expertise on the Taliban is slightly exaggerated,” the prince responded.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

Follow me on Twitter // jward@washingtontimes.com // Read my latest articles here // My YouTube channel

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