New Delhi: After much talk about talking to the Taliban, it's now dateline Doha on Thursday when the US will begin face to face official dialogue with the Afghan militant group. But, how credible are the latest efforts to bring political peace to Afghanistan and what are the contours of the arrangement?
It's an obviously coordinated move among the key players in the Afghan war---the White House, the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar, President Karzai and Islamabad. Soon after the US will begin the talks with the Taliban in Doha, Karzai-appointed peace council will travel to talk to them. The White House has acknowledged things will be slow and not simple, but believes a key condition has been met.
Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said, "The main dialogue we want to support is among Afghans. But there are some issues we, the US, want to discuss with the Taliban directly, most notably our concerns about Taliban connections to international terrorism."
That the Taliban did in a statement in Doha, now its official address, saying: The Islamic emirate never wants to pose harm to other countries--the closest at this stage to disassociating from Al Qaeda. It agrees to initiate talks with countries of the world to support a political and peaceful solution to end the occupation and to hold meetings with Afghans. This is a key shift as so far they have described Karzai heading a puppet government who they would not deal with.
But as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw completely by the end of 2014, violence shows no sign of reducing. Hours after the decision about the talks, four American troops were killed at the Bagram airbase. On Tuesday, an assassination attempt of a top afghan leader and Shia cleric failed.
President Karzai also acknowledged the talks at a ceremony where a transition to complete Afghan-led combat took place in Kabul--with an added condition that the talks should move to Afghanistan at some point. He said, "The principles are that the talks, having begun in Qatar, must immediately be moved to Afghanistan." President Karzai also repeated his demands for terror to be stopped from Pakistan. Islamabad too was quick to issue a statement, saying Pakistan has played a constructive and positive role in helping accomplish this important milestone in support of a peace process. It said it is ready to continue to facilitate the process to achieve lasting peace.
Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, heads the Quetts Shura. In an initially embargoed teleconference with reporters, a senior US administration official who cannot be named said, "We do believe that the Taliban Political Commission, now based in Doha are fully authorized by Mullah Omar himself. We believe that it broadly represents, as authorized by Mullah Omar, the entire movement to include the Haqqanis.
Now that's something realists find hard to believe--unless the time to come throws up evidence on the ground. The Indian embassy in Kabul has already faced Haqqani masterminded attacks. New Delhi will continue to stress that red lines between so-called good and bad Taliban should not be crossed. So the question of talks in the shadow of the bullet --is this the end of the beginning or another false start? Or is there light at the end of 12-year-old bloody tunnel?