At the major international conference on Afghanistan in London last Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban to take part in a loya jirga (assembly of elders) - as a start to peace talks.And just why might the Taliban not keep their word? Hell, that would be up to Obama. Its all there in the passages snipped.
The Taliban are widely reported as having responded that first they want all of the more than 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to leave the country by 2011.
Asia Times Online, however, has learned from well-connected sources in Afghanistan who have been directly involved in backchannel negotiations with the Taliban that there is an important nuance to the Taliban demand. That is, the United States must put an immediate halt to its plans to send a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan before withdrawal begins in 2011.
In return, the Taliban would be prepared to open up a channel of dialogue with the Americans, through Saudi Arabia, while at the same time taking measures to reduce the level of hostilities in the country.
The key issue boils down to one of trust, that is, whether the US would be prepared to only send in replacements for previously deployed troops, given that the surge in forces was meant to be a cornerstone of its counter-insurgency plan as a means of softening up the Taliban before talks could begin in earnest. Asia Times Online contacts claim that in an effort to get the dialogue process back on track, the US is considering the Taliban's demand on stopping the troop surge in Afghanistan, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan lined up to work out an arrangement that would keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda under control in any US exit plan.
Should the US agree to the Taliban demands, there is no guarantee that the Taliban would stick to their word. This is the US's dilemma.
"Washington has to focus on out-of-box thinking to resolve this conflict in Afghanistan," a Kabul-based contact told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. "The Americans desperately want an exit strategy but they cannot announce it outright because if they did so, the Taliban would overrun any government they left behind. The Americans aim to invite the Taliban to join the political process, but the bitter fact is that the Taliban do not believe in elections at all. They want the reinstatement of their Islamic Emirate that was dissolved by the Americans in 2001.
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