Taliban may want release of prisoners
American and Afghan officials have framed it as part of peace talks, but the Taliban have denied any talks have occurred. Skeptics say they believe the Taliban are after tactical gain rather than a peace process.
“The Taliban are mostly interested in talks about prisoner release - senior officials either at Guantanamo or Bagram [Air Base], or local cease-fires, rather than peace,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who chaired the Obama administration’s first Afghanistan war strategy review in 2009.
Mr. Riedel, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, expressed doubt that the Taliban are interested in peace, especially since one of their suicide bombers last fall killed former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed the Afghan High Peace Council.
Anthony Cordesman, a military strategist at the Center of Strategic and International Studies, said developments in Pakistan are not conducive for peace talks. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported the Afghan Taliban had reached out to the Pakistan Taliban for help against international forces in Afghanistan.
In addition, the Taliban’s perception that international troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014 diminishes their incentive to reach a peace deal with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, he said.
In its statement announcing the establishment of the office Tuesday, the Taliban rejected reports that it was engaged in negotiations with Western officials.
But a State Department official framed the office as a positive step in terms of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “talk, fight and build” strategy, in which the U.S. would build Afghan governance, continue to fight and explore political reconciliation.
The official insisted that any talks with the Taliban would be Afghan-led and that the U.S. is in a supporting role to the Afghan government. U.S. officials previously have confirmed they have had “preliminary contacts” with the Taliban but have declined to provide details.
“Afghanistan agrees with the talks between the U.S. and the Taliban for the sake of peace in Afghanistan and in order for the country to rid itself of imposed war, conspiracies and the killing of innocent people. We want the talks to be Afghan led and Afghan owned which is not the case yet,” Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said this week.
Pressed for clarification on whether he meant ongoing or future talks, he deferred to U.S. and Taliban officials, citing media reports that said “the U.S. is engaged with the Taliban in order to open an office for them in Qatar.”
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