Evidence of Taliban Peace Initiatives in 2002
By Gareth Porter, Counterpunch, Feb. 8, 2011
The central justification of the U.S.-NATO war against the Afghan Taliban – that the Taliban would allow al Qaeda to return to Afghanistan – has been challenged by new historical evidence of offers by the Taliban leadership to reconcile with the Hamid Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001.
The evidence of the Taliban peace initiatives comes from a new paper drawn from the first book-length study of Taliban- al Qaeda relations thus far, as well as an account in another recent study on the Taliban in Kandahar province by journalist Anand Gopal.
In a paper published Monday by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn recount the decision by the Taliban leadership in 2002 to offer political reconciliation with the U.S.-backed Afghan administration.
Citing an unidentified former Taliban official who participated in the decision, they report that the entire senior Taliban political leadership met in Pakistan in November 2002 to consider an offer of reconciliation with the new Afghan government in which they would “join the political process” in Afghanistan.
“We discussed whether to join the political process in Afghanistan or not and we took a decision that, yes, we should go and join the process,” the former Taliban leader told the co-authors.
They cite an interlocutor who was then in contact with the Taliban leadership as recalling that they would have returned to Afghanistan to participate in the political system if they had been given an assurance they would not be arrested.
But the Karzai government and the United States refused to offer such an assurance, the interlocutor recalled. They considered the Taliban a “spent force”, he told Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn.
Gopal, who has covered Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal, provided a similar account of the Taliban attempt to reconcile with the Karzai government in a lengthy study published by the New America Foundation last November, based on his interviews with present and former Taliban as well as with officials in the office of President Karzai.
The entire senior Taliban leadership, meeting in Karachi, “agreed in principle to find a way for them to return to Afghanistan and abandon the fight”, Gopal wrote, but the initiative was frustrated by the unwillingness of the United States and the Afghan government to provide any assurance that they would not arrested and detained.
The Taliban continued to pursue the possibility of reconciliation in subsequent years, with apparent interest on the part of the Karzai government, according to Gopal. Delegations “representing large sections of the Taliban leadership” traveled to Kabul in both 2003 and 2004 to meet with senior government officials, according to his account.
But the George W. Bush administration remained uninterested in offering assurances of security to the Taliban.