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How to talk to the Taliban

Published Feb 12, 2010 02:09pm


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Lately, there’ been a lot of talk about talking to the Taliban, and talking to the Taliban about talking to the Taliban. I wonder what high-level policy think-tank came up with this harebrained scheme; after nearly a decade of violence, someone sitting in a conference room must have snapped their fingers and said, “I’ve got it! Why don’t we ‘talk’ to the Taliban?” There must have undoubtedly been a flurry of official documentation, and policy ruminations about why talking to the Taliban would be a stronger strategy than indiscriminate bombing. Well what can I say other than ‘Wow!’ I mean all this advanced industrial infrastructure, these exquisite academic institutions, and all that jazz, and it took them this long to do a 180-degree policy turnaround after shamelessly going for a completely failed strategy for this long.

And together with Osama Bin Laden’s surprise eco-friendly green message for the American people, compared to last year’s prediction of mortgage market meltdown, I’m beginning to wonder if we’re actually in a Bizarro World. One where iTunes sells Osama audio clips for 99 cents a piece, where the Taliban are part of a hit Broadway burqa-flashing musical, and where the Pakistani administration has forgotten all about Afghanistan and has gone hunting for “strategic depth” in all sorts of places like Kirghizstan and Botswana. If only this were the case it would be so much easier to make sense of the world-as-bizzaro-reality. But sadly this isn’t so, the strange and the unruly all get meshed up into the very real in the here-and-now, and this isn’t some messed up dream of a science fiction columnist in a gossip rag.

Coming back to reality, bizarre as it may be, America seems to be in uncharted territory, as eight years of the Bush Doctrine has made legislators, policy makers, and diplomats completely forget how to even go about ‘talking with the terrorists’ let alone actually go about ‘negotiating’. So as the Obama administration had initially come up with this simplistic yet extremely radical formula of good Taliban and bad Taliban, it seems things have become more complicated. Probably because the good Taliban must have told them to talk to the bad Taliban first, and talking to the bad Taliban first would definitely make the US come off as stupid.

In order to avoid this humiliation, it seems the formula has been made a little more complex as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, “We’re not going to talk to the really bad guys.” Okay, so let me get this straight: in the wild wild west of the Afghan bad-lands there’s good guys, there’s bad guys, and there’s the really bad guys. She could’ve easily stuck to the gung-ho cowboy mentality and said “Oh, don’t worry, we’re not going to talk to the ugly ones.”

So now it seems that, just like the ‘I-raqi people’, the ‘Af-gan people’ are responsible for the way their country goes. And after that sham election even dictators are ashamed of referring to as an election… oh wait, don’t I mean the one that was supposed to empower liberal institutions in Afghanistan? It must’ve really come as a shocker to US decision-makers when they discovered that Afghanistan doesn’t have any institutions, let alone liberal, with everything being conducted through warlords. You’d probably have to go through a warlord to pay your electricity bills – assuming they still have electricity.

And whatever happened to that idea of the Afghan National Army being the force for peace and prosperity in the region (a.k.a protracted civil war)? It only took a few well infiltrated bombings here and there for American strategicians to scrap that idea and go back to the drawing board. And all they could come up with is a massive marketing operation to rebrand the good and the ‘not that bad’ Taliban as the new reformulated Afghan National Army, by throwing out buckets full of money.

And if the Taliban are nothing more than money-grubbing buggers, then wouldn’t it be easier if the Americans had just offered the then Taliban administration a fraction of the cost of the war in exchange for Osama bin Laden back in 2001. Wouldn’t that, in retrospect, have been so much simpler than this fiasco we’ve had to witness over the first decade of the twentieth century? Now after all the bombs and the shelling, epidemics of firebrand conservatism and blow yourself LIVE on TV performance art, it seems the Taliban have suddenly learnt how to talk. Oh wait, maybe I’m getting this wrong. We might need to revisit this.

Remember when Bush said, “We’re gonna bomb ‘em to the Stone Age!” Well, he really wasn’t kidding about that. Those cluster bombs were actually designed to backtrack millions of years of evolution, so by the end of the ‘bombing to the stone age’ the Taliban had not only lost lingual capabilities, they’d also almost washed their hands with opposable thumbs and other evolutionary conveniences. This momentary lapse of language wasn’t to stop the Taliban from re-integrating themselves with the modern societies around them. So what they did was put themselves on the extra-fast, fast-track to reintegration. The amazing feat of rediscovering millions of years of genetic memory in less than a decade was achieved by the intense ratta learning method of the madrassah establishment in Afghanistan – one whip lash if you get a word wrong, two whip lashes if you get the word wrong with a smile on your face.

The Taliban really haven’t failed us or themselves. By rediscovering language they have put themselves in a position to once again converse with the civilized world; now they can re-integrate, and become a part of the marvelous modern spectacle. Now President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton can just pick up the phone and call the Taliban (but not on a conference call, for the Taliban might get confused as to how two different voices are coming out of the same box). Negotiation will obviously have to be monosyllabic at first, basic requests phrased in very basic terms filled with praise, “O You Taliban! Mighty people of this great land.”

And since the Taliban don’t yet have a concept of money, maybe favors can be bartered with them instead; 50 million goats and 20 million lambs in exchange for their cooperation and a guided tour of their fabulous land. One wouldn’t want to re-introduce them to money all too quickly though, their untarnished minds might get befuddled by the dollar bills, and the conspicuous shade of green might bring back traumatic memories which might inspire them to wage war on the evil specter of capitalism all over again (without knowing exactly why, or what, they’re fighting for, but fight they must!).

And with everything peaceful on the Afghan front, the Pakistani “dis-establishment” would be wondering how they lost all that “strategic depth,” and how was it that they were left with all the “strategic shallowness” instead. Maybe what they thought of as deep wasn’t really that deep, but a pretence of depth just to let them feel smart about themselves: “Oh yes, we’re deep, not only deep, but strategically deep.” I bet they feel stupid now, as all their depth dissipates. Especially after the Obama administration didn’t let them utter a word to the Taliban on their own side of the border. “No! You cannot talk to terrorists,” came the dictum over an overseas call. “You must bomb the terrorists!” And bomb we did, not quite back to the Stone Age – since we’re not as technologically advanced, our bombing took them back to the Middle Ages instead.

Maybe we should try calling up our Taliban and try talking to them, they might respond in Shakespearian Middle English, but that’s nothing expert negotiators like Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman shouldn’t be able to circumvent. But sadly, the Pakistan government wants too much to be like its big bad-ass brother, the United States, so instead of talking to our own Taliban, we go ahead and say, “We also want to talk to the Afghan Taliban.” Claiming that the Pakistani Taliban just aren’t bad-ass enough for us, “Oh come on, they just learnt how to talk again, we’re neighbours, don’t you think we should get to know them better?” Thinking “strategic depth” all the while, repeating that mantra in our heads. We can never get enough of the stuff at home, we have to go around forking stuff in other countries to feel good about ourselves.

I bet the Pakistani Taliban feel left out of the equation though. No one wants to talk to them, not even the Afghan Taliban. But then again, they might be able to go the route of washed up celebrities and get their own reality show. Maybe they could get a Big Brother style house, but all the members in it have to abide by the Taliban Code of Ethics, otherwise they get flogged on camera. The Pakistani Taliban are going to be bigger and more famous than ever. They’ll have it all: picture on the cover of Time magazine, on a few of those 100 sexiest people list, on The Late Show with David Letterman, showing off their green turbans to fashion gurus on the red carpet ceremony of the Academy Awards.

Of course, the Pakistani civilian “mis-administration” and military “dis-estabilishment” won’t feature in too much of the fame, maybe in a couple of gossip rags with headlines like “We Talked to Afghan Taliban in 2010 Too.” Or maybe they could author some of those cheap paperbacks, with titles like, “The Taliban and Us: Memoirs from a Time Forgotten.” Maybe they would feature for a few minutes in a posthumous documentary about how the Taliban made it to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. “Well yes, we always knew they would have extreme potential, extreme obviously because they were such extremists, we always knew they had potential. Why we did not act on it, we do not know, we could’ve made some money off of them, but you know how the times change. Yes they were a great bunch, those were great fun days.”

Lahore-based Asif Akhtar is interested in critical social discourse as well as the expressive facets of reactive art and is one of the schizophrenic narrators of a graphic novel. He blogs at and tweets at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (43) Closed

Zafar Mar 05, 2010 08:32am
Our Foreign Secretory Mr. Bashir really lacks wits and diplomatic tactics. Today he says that Hafiz Saeed is a "respected citizen" of our country. Mr. Bashir you are not only degrading your stature but also demeaning our nation in the world's eyes. Hafiz Saeed and JUD are banned by the United Nations in 2008 because America and India and all permanent members with the exception of China has termed both of them terror outfits. So Mr. Bashir, you must check the facts before saying something. Another phrase he said was he is not aware of India asking for Hafiz Saeed. I want to say it
Sania Qayum Mar 04, 2010 08:11am
Good news for us and congrats to our military for arresting top Taliban leaders during last 3 weeks. They are responsible for deaths of our innocent civilians. But we must not be complacent as the Taliban will surely take revenge. NOT talking to them was a good strategy. Sania
Mustafa Mar 01, 2010 03:56am
They not only hate USA and Western nation but also all Muslims and Muslimahs who got education in any schools, colleges and universities other than Madarsahs run by their kind of people.
JASyed Feb 24, 2010 06:25am
Talking to Taliban is useless. They are filled with hatred for US and for western nations. Khuda hafiz Syed Naqvi
Rashid Saleem Feb 22, 2010 10:45am
Talking to Taliban may not be as bas of an option as it sounds. The background to this could be that the recent military operations and the arrested militant leaders have broken their bone. Any way to end this menace of terrorism will be welcomed whether its diplomacy or a military operation.
aiesha Feb 20, 2010 07:49am
Tumtum Feb 17, 2010 01:53pm
Well said!
gulfam rashid Feb 16, 2010 05:40am
Well I don
Mustafa Feb 14, 2010 11:49pm
No one accepts that if bombs disappear, drones will disappear. No one also accepts that the bombs were there before drones appeared. No one also accepts that Muslims will be loyal to any Muslims who are enemies of Americans even if they blow up Muslims standing in prayers in a mosque, blowing up innocent Muslim men, women and children in market places, schools, hospitals. No one accepts the command of Allah in the Holy Quran: "If any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed all mankind; and if any one saved the life of a person, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind." (Quran V: 32). But all want to be called Muslims and only Allah knows who is a Muslim and who is an enemy of Muslims.
Neil Feb 14, 2010 07:15pm
"More terror and avenge" etc. only means that the Pakistani Army and the US is on the right track. If you keep nibbing the bud (the likes of Baitulah and Hakimulah), simultaneously check the flow of funds, weapons and information to such people. I am sure that the guys who have committed heinous crimes had to be brought to justice. Others who are with them for other reasons (like community feeling, felt humiliated, been unfairly treated, for political reasons) are not to eliminated. Their grievances should be addressed with dignity and further initiatives development activities specially labor intensive industries in the captured areas will ensure brighter future with peace dignity to both Afghani and Pakistani people in the troubled area. To do that, we need to talk to them friend.
Bin Ismail Feb 14, 2010 05:45pm
Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol - yes. But good and taliban - you must be kidding. The only difference between Afghan and Pakistani taliban is that one spreads disorder on Afghan soil and the other prefers Pakistani soil.
Ash Feb 14, 2010 12:20pm
A lot of Pakis refer to this war in third person, almost as if this is not their war, but simply a US war. Pakistan is your country and you are fully responsible for your country. Both the good and bad Taliban needs to be taken out completely. And Pakistani Army needs to be more focused on eradicating its terrorists, rather than get focused on US, India, Kashmir or Afghanistan. Focus on your economy, rather than getting Aid from Western countries.
fakhar Feb 14, 2010 09:05am
Do not talk to them, to rectify the problems of this unfortunate country only way forward is to go back to the Pakistan of Quaid-a-Azam. Pakistan is the Pakistan of Pakistanis and Quiad-a-Azam. We don
Aamnah khan Feb 14, 2010 08:09am
I am really glad to read your views and can
Rashid Feb 14, 2010 06:58am
There are no good Talbans. They are all bad.
Z Feb 14, 2010 04:20am
Well what do you want to say really? should one or should one not talk to the taliban?
ashok Feb 14, 2010 01:55am
How to talk to Taliban???? How can you logically communicate with obsessed people?? How can you make your point go across to people who think their way is the only way?? How can you talk who have to respect for their own lives on anybody else's life?? Talibani
Shanz Khan Feb 13, 2010 07:25am
Taliban are seems to be better in their approach and to me they are ideal to be perceived as role model in terms that they are at least consistent with their policy and struggle and unlike their opponents they are not people of 180 degree and back and forth, they have given young generation an old lesson on real terms that if one determent against the powerful evil, Allah will help him all the way. What is bad in their policy to support Al Qaida, if they apart their ways from Al Qaida, I don't think that anything shall remain in their way anymore to take control of the Kabul and save this country to fall again as nightclub hub as it was in 1970 and some other secular time. There is no one to give Afghanistan a durable solution other than Taliban and world has witnessed it in during their earlier tenure.
J.Shankar Feb 13, 2010 03:09am
Nobody can 'talk' the Taliban to suddenly start loving the US. The Taliban and Al-qaeda survive because of their hatred of the West. Israel is not going to suddenly be generous to Palestine just because Taliban are talking. India is not going to hand over Kashmir. As long as these issues remain, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be in the terrorism business. Even if these issues are solved, they'll find issues to continue their terror because that is the only thing they know how to do.
Muhammad.Quddus Feb 13, 2010 03:19am
Talking to Taliban does not mean giving them or to their ideas recognition. Taliban is a spent force. Any group that has a contempt towards half of its population by destroying their schools is outdated. Taliban wouldn't exist in any of the modern industrial liberal democracies. When Bush had spoken of leveling the country to the stone age, he really doesn't have to do it. The country accomplished the goal without any outside efforts. Who else would destroy their own historical and cultural monuments? If Talibans are able to destroy their own history, then what else is there to live for? The worst enemy anyone could dream of is to have the Talibans within.
J.Shankar Feb 13, 2010 03:25am
@Saladin, I don't think anybody needs to defend Islam. Islam has nothing to do with this mess. The terrorists just needed a justification for their convoluted logic and religion was a convenient tool that had mass reach. The worst thing that happened was the participation of the so-called religious preachers who joined the 'cause' and believed that terrorism was sanctioned and legitimate. After that, an entire generation of innocent children were brainwashed into this ideology. Any non-Muslim who has visited a Muslim household will tell you that there are no finer hosts than Muslims. I love visiting my Muslim friends and I invite them over. The problem is with perception and ignorance and how Islam is being portrayed in the media. Suddenly, the world seems to think that the extreme ideologies of the militants is what mainstream Islam is all about. This cannot be farther from the truth.
Abraham Haque Feb 13, 2010 03:42am
Is it not what the Taliban want that there should only be one brand of community, defined by them, it is interesting to read a very romantic version of Islam propagated by Saladin a. Unfortunately that version actually never exited throughout history. He should actually read the real Islamic history, it is the continuation of the Islamic Imperialism that Saladin and Taliban
EBRAHEEM KHAN Feb 13, 2010 04:21am
After all we all have tongues and well adept to the language they(TALIBAN) speak. They are neither aliens nor we are the Terminators. The common thing among us as a human is SENSE. Why do we need dictations from others when our own home is on fire.Actually we are short of minds which can speak,can present majority's view in a table talk. No YES Sir,Better Sir needed any more
Anand Feb 13, 2010 01:48am
Yes.. Diplomacy IS a good idea. With the Taliban, and with all other criminals in the world.
rauf Feb 12, 2010 10:22pm
Saludeen You can see the bombs used by the Taliban, but you seem to be blind to the drone missiles used by Americans against Muslims. What kind of Islam are you talking about.
Qureshi Feb 13, 2010 10:21am
One thing is very important to understand is the difference between Pakistani and Afghan taliban. Because one is bad and one is good. The former has probable been developed to malign the actual taliban of Afghanistan.
Tahir Rizvi Feb 12, 2010 08:17pm
President Karzai' Government, U.S and others who want to talk to the reasonable Talibans are doing the right thing. Making peace effort is always a good cause. God loves peace makers not those who propogate violence.
Arjun Feb 12, 2010 06:36pm
The USA and Pakistan should guarantee that that the Hazara Muslims are not harassed by Pashtuns in Afghanistan.
kalyanbk Feb 13, 2010 04:14pm
Anyone who talks to the Good Taliban and Bad Taliban should first ask the Afghan women what they think about the concept. Can you imagine what will happen if American women find out that the US government has invited the "good" Taliban to share power in the US? I agree with one respondent that tha Taliban has atleast been consistent in its message and ideals unlike the US which keeps changing its stance to suit itself and preventing the nightclub culture in Afghanistan. (Of course we will ignore that they use drug money when required.)
A.Bajwa Feb 12, 2010 11:35pm
To negotiate with Taliban you have to recognize them as combatants. The combatants have to observe laws of war, particularly those relating to civilian population. So far neither side has observed this. So how do you negotiate. At least US Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghan government and Taliban have to join the talks, through an intermediary like the Tukish government. It is pretty complex. So perhaps Saudis would settle with Taliban on the lines advised by USA and Pakistan and Afghan government will have to fall in line. The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have to realise that they have a common destiny in sorting out their differences. This is particularly true of the Pashtoon tribes on both sides of Durand. They have suffered the most. And they have to fix the peace, to ensure welfare of their people. May be ANP and JUI should take the peace initiative.
Chris Feb 12, 2010 05:56pm
There have been several attempts at negotiating with the Taliban, this is nothing new. All the way back in 2005, President Karzai said he was willing to talk to Mullah Omar. Omar replied with three pre-conditions. 1. The immediate removal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. 2. The implementation of Shariah law (as interpreted by - who else - Mullah Omar). and 3. The removal of all foreign influences. In other words, re-install Omar as the undisputed Emperor of Afghanistan, remove any force that would oppose him, and then the Taliban will talk.
Gulfam Rashid Feb 13, 2010 03:08pm
Talk to the Taliban aka freedom fighters ? and what exactly will be the Americans statement... stop fighting us and let us continue to occupy and imperialise your country. Regardless of what we think about their views..... the truth is that they are justified in fighting for independence and freedom.. the very same independence and freedom that Americans cant open their mouth without mentioning, how "free" they are... hyprocracy. and there is a significant difference between Pakistani Talibs and Afghani ones.... the difference being that the Afghani Talibs are fighting occupiers, where as Pakistani Talibs ARE the occupiers.. too be fair... the Pakistani Talibs are not really Taleban, they are in fact a hotchpotch of criminals and naive men..
Ahmed Feb 13, 2010 03:18pm
I would second that. This is very important to understand as this is key understanding what Pakistani military has been doing. Afghani Taliban never waged war against any other country and are only against the NATO forces that are occupying Afghanistan.
Saqib M Khan Feb 13, 2010 02:17pm
Correction: I consider that the so called Taliban in Pakistan engaged in violence, insurgency, terrorism and suicide bombing and killing innocent Pakistanis in hordes are not fighting for the cause of Islam but are plain and simple hired killers and murderers paid by foreign powers to create civil disorder and unrest leading to eventual disintegration of Pakistan. Their agenda and objectives are political and they are not only enemies of Pakistan but also of Islam.
saladin a Feb 12, 2010 10:28am
Violence and terrorism cannot solve or sort out problems and if these suicide bombers or terrorists suffer from the misconception that by using violent means they could intimidate societies then it is their biggest folly. If they seek justice then it could only be achieved when there is peace. Peace cannot be achieved when there is violence and justice can only prevail when there is harmony and peace around us. In Islam, Jihad means struggle or strive but the struggle must be peaceful and never violent. I will tell my Muslim brothers and sisters that they can win hearts and minds of everybody in the world by spreading Islamic message of peace (AS-Salaam), love, harmony, hope and mercy by reflecting piety and righteousness in their deeds,
Chithra KarunaKaran Feb 12, 2010 12:12pm
The US needs to get out of South Asia. South Asia's sovereign nation-states have to persevere to find ways to talk with each other. We the people have to drive our respective govts to stop the hate and distrust and Let the People BE. Only We the People can change that. Demonizing the Taliban doesn't help us deal with them. And now the US wants to set up talks with the Taliban? Would the Taliban see right through this latest hypocrisy of the US? The Taliban is only a minor player in this Industry. They definitely want a bigger slice of the terror pie. Talking is always a good thing -- better than bomb blasts and drones. But the talk has no ethical basis, so there will be no ethical outcome. Therefore no lasting peace for We the People. Chithra KarunaKaran New York
Bin Ismail Feb 12, 2010 10:53am
There has to be a minimum degree of consistency in policy. Does the state go around talking to murderers, armed robbers and terrorists ? If so, then why not extend the same luxury to all those on the death row?
Taslim Feb 12, 2010 11:15am
Taliban and common sense are miles apart! Talking wont solve anything. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud is welcome news. However, the new Taliban chief will try to unleash more terror and avenge his death. News is that American military general will be coming to our country shortly to discuss "new strategy" for attacking Taliban in Helm and. So we must put pressure on our govt. for giving us enhanced security in all cities. But how far can this govt. assure us is another question. Taslim
Abdullah Hussain Feb 13, 2010 01:57pm
In my opinion there is neither any need nor it is advisable to talk to the Pakistani Talibans. They are bad cholesterol and need to be removed from the democratic system of the country. Initiating any talk with Pakistani Talibans will be tantamount to accepting them as an entity. The simple advice to the Talibans should be to laid down arms, say sorry to the nation and mix in the system in a way that their presence as a Taliban is never felt again. A high level committee comprising all the leading Ulemas of all schools of thought in Pakistan should be formed and given the task to study and recommend ways in step to turn Pakistan into a real moderate Islamic country. Pakistan was created as an Islamic country and should continue to flourish under the umbrella of Islamic governance in all sphere of life. Let us show to the world that Islam if followed according to the commandments of Allah and teachings of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) will deliver peace and tranquility to all. AH
Aamnah khan Feb 12, 2010 02:56pm
When they have'nt been able to succeed as they have willed for[Although its another matter that they have'nt realised yet what they actually want to do here] after such long time than they may try their remaining stamina too. In the end they have to go Back,lost in History.
S. Khan Feb 12, 2010 01:15pm
After a long time I got to read a good article with sarcastic clich
Ammar Feb 12, 2010 01:31pm
Excellent humor with sensible analysis! The dilemma is if talks with Taliban were the right option we should have opted for it years ago. The case of Sawat peace accord cites that any such talks would be fruitless.
Tasneem Mar 08, 2010 09:36am
Ya ALLAH! One more blast today at FIA building in Lahore. When will this cruel Taliban will stop killing people. What is our govt. doing? Our govt. should concentrate more on our internal security.