THE tendrils of a negotiation process in Afghanistan seem to keep getting mowed down. Now, according to an Associated Press report, it appears that contacts between a ‘personal emissary’ of Mullah Omar, Tayab Agha and the US — the most promising such contacts to date according to details sketched out by the international media — were scuttled by President Karzai. The method: exposing the secret contacts through leaks from the Afghan presidency, causing Mr Agha to fear for his life and go into hiding. The reason: President Karzai was allegedly upset about being kept out of the loop about contacts between the Taliban and the US and feared that a negotiation process in which he was kept on the sidelines would end up sidelining him in a future Afghan dispensation. It’s an ironic tale. For long the US baulked at the idea of negotiating with the Taliban, rejecting entreaties by President Karzai and Pakistan to opt for a political solution. But as political and economic considerations in the US began to curb American aspirations in Afghanistan, the US warmed to the idea of a political settlement. Now, afraid that by the time they are given a seat at the negotiating table by the US it could be too late, it is President Karzai and Pakistan who are busy scuttling contacts between the US and the Taliban.
It may be a forlorn hope that the US, Pakistan and the Karzai-led government will develop a mutually trusting and cooperative framework 10 years into a triangular relationship that has been troubled at the best of times. But work together they must, for each has the potential to impose high costs on the other. Waiting on the other side may finally be a partner willing to talk.
Mullah Omar’s Eid message was filled with the usual rhetoric against foreign forces and for the most part took a tough, uncompromising and familiar line on the future of Afghanistan. But in a section on reconciliation, the language appeared to soften, if only slightly: “For this purpose [the establishment of an ‘independent Islamic regime’], every legitimate option can be considered in order to reach this goal. The contacts which have been made with some parties for the release of prisoners can’t be called a comprehensive negotiation for the solution of the current imbroglio of the country.”
With those words, for the first time, Mullah Omar did not outright reject negotiations. So there is further irony: as the Taliban possibly edge towards the beginning of negotiations, it is their interlocutors on the other side who are squabbling and undermining one another.