U.S. tries to thin Tal­iban ranks with of­fers of

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY SARA A. CARTER AND RAZA KHAN

The United States and its al­lies are step­ping up ef­forts to per­suade Afghan in­sur­gents to put down their arms by ne­go­ti­at­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar and other Tal­iban com­man­ders and of­fer­ing cash and jobs to low-level fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to Pak­istani, Mid­dle East­ern and U.S. of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts.

The ef­forts, cou­pled with an in­creased U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan, are meant to weaken the in­sur­gency and pro­mote a ne­go­ti­ated end to the re­gion’s vi­o­lence.

“The strat­egy is to peel away so many fight­ers” from the in­sur­gent chiefs that they will be left like “float­ing ice­bergs and have no one left to com­mand,” said Kenneth Katz­man, an Afghanistan spe­cial­ist at the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice.

Sev­eral Pak­istani, Mid­dle East­ern and U.S. of­fi­cials said in in­ter­views that Saudi and Pak­istani of­fi­cials, act­ing with tacit Amer­i­can en­cour­age­ment, are talk­ing with “sec­ond tier” Tal­iban leaders con­nected with Mul­lah Omar. The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported re­cently that Mul­lah Omar has been hid­ing in the Pak­istani metropo­lis of Karachi and was brought there with the knowl­edge of Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence.

“You’ve got a lot of play­ers in­volved in the ef­fort,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the talks, “not just within the U.S. gov­ern­ment, but for­eign part­ners, too.”

The of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion that he not be named be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the topic, added: “U.S. in­tel­li­gence isn’t the lead on talk­ing to mem­bers of the Afghan Tal­iban who may be in­ter­ested in dis­cussing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. But when it makes sense, the [U.S.] in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity is brought in for its ex­per­tise, re­la­tion­ships and judg­ment.”

Such meet­ings were re­ported to have taken place in the Saudi holy city of Mecca in Septem­ber 2008, but they con­tinue else­where to­day.

Mr. Katz­man said Qayyum Karzai, a brother of the Afghan pres­i­dent, par­tic­i­pated in the 2008 talks. He also said there were meet­ings in Jan­uary in Saudi Ara­bia and con­tacts in the United Arab Emi­rates.

Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates, along with Pak­istan, were the only coun­tries that rec­og­nized the Tal­iban when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

A West­ern diplo­mat based in the Pak­istani cap­i­tal, Is­lam­abad, who asked not to be named, con­firmed that Pak­istani and Saudi of­fi­cials are us­ing their “con­nec­tions and in­flu­ence within Afghan Tal­iban to elicit some mean­ing­ful way to end the dead­lock.”

A se­nior Pak­istani of­fi­cial who is fa­mil­iar with the talks and also asked not to be named said that “the U.S. is try­ing to lever­age the Tal­iban in or­der to find a res­o­lu­tion to the war in ac­cor­dance with Pres­i­dent Obama’s strat­egy.”

Saudi Em­bassy of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton de­clined to con­firm or deny the talks. But Noel Clay, a State Depart­ment spokesman, said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­ports “ef­forts to­wards rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Tal­iban as long as cer­tain cri­te­ria are met.”

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton laid out those cri­te­ria in a speech in July. “We and our Afghan al­lies stand ready to wel­come any­one sup­port­ing the Tal­iban who re­nounces al Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the free and open so­ci­ety that is en­shrined in the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion,” she said.

Bruce Riedel, a for­mer CIA an­a­lyst who headed Mr. Obama’s first Afghanistan-Pak­istan re­view, said such ap­proaches “are worth ex­plor­ing, but I would not ex­pect to see tan­gi­ble progress un­til the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion changes” in Afghanistan.

“It’s highly un­likely that peo­ple will switch from the per­ceived winning side,” he said. “If you change the mo­men­tum on the bat­tle­field and the Tal­iban is no longer seen as the win­ner, you may see the frac­tures come to the front.”

The United States hopes to achieve that change of mo­men­tum by adding 30,000 troops to its force in the coun­try.

Mr. Katz­man and Mr. Riedel said it would be eas­i­est to make a deal with fol­low­ers of Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar, a for­mer mu­ja­hedeen fighter against the Soviet Union who has al­ready au­tho­rized some of his fol­low­ers to join the gov­ern­ment of Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai. Mr. Katz­man said lit­tle progress has been made with Mul­lah Omar or an­other in­sur­gent leader, Jal­abud­din Haqqani.

Be­yond talks with mil­i­tant com­man­ders, a sec­ond el­e­ment of the U.S. strat­egy is to lure rankand-file fight­ers with jobs and cash.

Mr. Obama, in his speech last month out­lin­ing his new Afghanistan strat­egy, spoke of “rein­te­gra­tion” of Tal­iban fight­ers into the Afghan army and po­lice.

In tes­ti­mony two weeks ago be­fore the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, the head of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, said a force rein­te­gra­tion cell had been cre­ated to try to iden­tify fight­ers who could be in­duced to join Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

Mr. Katz­man said the cell, un­der the com­mand of Bri­tish Maj. Gen. Richard Bar­rons, would try to “stan­dard­ize what a Tal­iban per­son gets if he sur­ren­ders.”

U.S. of­fi­cials say that start­ing salaries for Afghans in high-com­bat ar­eas are be­ing raised from $180 a month to $240 to bet­ter com­pete with the Tal­iban, which pays fight­ers $250 to $300 a month.

De­fense Depart­ment spokesman Army Lt. Col. Mark Wright said the Pen­tagon is sup­port­ing com­man­ders to win over the “$5and $10-a-day Tal­iban-for-hire fighter.”

“Th­ese fight­ers are not ide­o­logues,” he said. “So we’ll use the [Com­man­ders Emer­gency Re­sponse Pro­gram] money to bring them over so they don’t feel like the Tal­iban is their only place to turn to. We don’t neces- sar­ily pay them di­rectly but can use the CERP for land projects and other ne­ces­si­ties to win them over and rein­te­grate them.”

Col. Wright added that U.S. forces also would fo­cus on im­prov­ing se­cu­rity be­cause Afghans “are not go­ing to come work for the U.S. or Afghan gov­ern­ment if they feel their fam­ily is go­ing to be threat­ened by the Tal­iban for their ac­tions.”

“This is a multi-pronged process,” he said. “We need talks with Tal­iban, en­hanced se­cu­rity and con­tin­u­ous ef­forts to lure back the low-level Tal­iban fighter.”

Mr. Karzai, whose re-elec­tion was cer­ti­fied last month, has said re­peat­edly that ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Tal­iban could help end the war.

“The fight against ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism can­not be won by fight­ing alone,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press re­cently.

Shuja Nawaz, di­rec­tor of the South Asia Cen­ter at the At­lantic Coun­cil, said U.S. strat­egy is to “split up” the Tal­iban lead­er­ship. Mr. Nawaz ex­pressed doubt, how­ever, that Mul­lah Omar could be won over, call­ing him “the hard­est nut to crack.”

Ashraf Ghani, a for­mer Afghan fi­nance min­is­ter and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, said that “there’s a na­tional con­sen­sus that we need a po­lit­i­cal frame­work for peace­mak­ing.”

Mr. Ghani told an au­di­ence at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace in Wash­ing­ton ear­lier this month, “We’ve been at­tribut­ing more unity to the in­sur­gency than ex­ists.”

Many Afghans are con­cerned, how­ever, that the Tal­iban is sim­ply play­ing for time in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a U.S. with­drawal.

“What hap­pens five years from now?” asked an Afghan of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “Will the Afghan peo­ple be un­der a cen­tral­ized demo­cratic gov­ern­ment or the Tal­iban? Can the two live in har­mony? It isn’t pos­si­ble.”

West­ern diplo­mats in Pak­istan said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion would al­low the Tal­iban a role in the Afghan gov­ern­ment but not a restora­tion of their harsh Is­lamic regime.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pak­istani au­thor­ity on the Tal­iban, said the mil­i­tant group aims to re­store that regime, which se­verely re­stricted the rights of women, forced men to wear beards and barred mu­sic and most other forms of en­ter­tain­ment.

A Kabul-based Afghan jour­nal­ist named Ghafor­zoy told The Times, “Of late, there are in­di­ca­tions from the Tal­iban that they by pos­ing as re­cal­ci­trant they want to win the lion’s share in a fu­ture broad-based gov­ern­ment.”

Pak­istan, which helped cre­ate the Tal­iban in the 1990s to de­fend Pak­istani in­ter­ests in Afghanistan against ri­val In­dia, clearly wants to pre­serve its long in­vest­ment in the mil­i­tants, said Im­ran Khan, an an­a­lyst based in Pe­shawar.

“If Pak­istan is en­sured [. . . ] a friendly gov­ern­ment in Kabul with min­i­mum in­flu­ence of In­dia, it can do won­ders to bring peace to Afghanistan,” Mr. Khan said.

He said Pak­istani in­ter­ests in Afghanistan could best be safe­guarded if a gov­ern­ment in­cludes Tal­iban and Hek­mat­yar’s Hizb-e-Is­lami group.

Raza Khan wrote from Is­lam­abad. Bar­bara Slavin also con­trib­uted to this re­port from Wash­ing­ton.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Learn­ing to co­ex­ist: A camel walks past as an LAV in­fantr y fight­ing ve­hi­cle carr ying U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 4th Light Ar­mored Re­con­nais­sance Bat­tal­ion pa­trols the area Dec. 12 dur­ing an op­er­a­tion near Khan Neshin in the volatile Hel­mand prov­ince of south­ern Afghanistan.

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