Afghanistan - Taliban peace talks: Too many cooks in the kitchen

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (center) walks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at Chequers, the Prime Minister's official country residence in Buckinghamshire, west of London, Feb. 4, 2013. Getty

KABUL The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Britain sat down in London this week to try and hammer out a single, coherent approach to an Afghan peace process which has been confused from the start.

The summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron brought together Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Zardari, and yielded one result: a six-month deadline to work out concrete arrangements for the negotiations to move forward.

President Karzai's Press Office released a statement describing a "very frank and open discussion". In diplomatic code, that means there was some tough talk between the two neighbors, which routinely blame each other for violence inside their respective national borders.

Cameron was slightly more upbeat in his assessment, saying the two leaders had agreed to take their cooperation to, "an unprecedented level."

The next step should be, according to Karzai's office, the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, in the United Arab Emirates, to help facilitate talks between the Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council. The problem with that approach is that, although the Taliban agreed to open an office in Doha, they have so far refused to speak to the Karzai government, which they routinely refer to as a puppet regime propped up by the U.S. and its allies.

U.S. diplomats, who stayed on the sidelines of this latest meeting, have had a series of secret talks with Taliban officials thought to represent Mullah Omar, the movement's formal leader. Those talks enraged President Karzai, who insists the peace process be "Afghan-led," and whose inner circle has voiced concerns about being left out in the cold when American forces leave in 2014.

The Taliban have also complained that the U.S. has thus far failed to release some high-level prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, as reportedly agreed. Pakistan has begun releasing some of its Afghan Taliban prisoners, but that has only complicated matters with the Afghans who are now complaining that no one is tracking those released prisoners and some may have rejoined the insurgency.

The peace process has been complicated by the number of parties taking it upon themselves to conduct sensitive negotiations in private. It's also been marred by confusion over whom they were talking to.

In 2010 NATO officials held talks with a man they believed was a top Taliban representative, only to have him disappear after being handed a large amount of cash. In September 2011, the confusion turned deadly when the head of the Afghan High Peace Council was assassinated by a man he believed was an envoy bringing a peace proposal from the Taliban.

  • Randall Joyce

Comments