Newspapers and online media outlets are filled with stories at the end of the year about the two-day exploratory peace talks just concluded in France.
Let us look closely:
On Dec. 20, according to The Wall Street Journal, representatives of the Taliban, Hezbi-i-Islami (The Islamic Party), the Afghan government, and the Northern Alliance, met at the Chateau de la Tour, in Chantilly, outside of Paris for the third time this year to see if they could bring peace to Afghanistan.
The first such meeting, which was more low-key, was held in Kyoto on June 28 and organized by Doshisha University. It is not clear at the moment what role the U.S. might have played in these talks.
I smiled when I read that the meetings were at the Chateau de la Tour. It is ironic that the Taliban -- who are waging a class war as much as a religious, ethnic war, and brother war -- would agree to meet in a chateau, a symbol of the aristocracy with its manicured lawns and high black wrought iron fence.
Were these talks serious? Will they lead to peace? More immediately, will they lead to the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is being held captive by the Taliban since June 2009? No one seems to know. The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Hajji Din Mohammad, a participant in the talks: "It is better to know the Taliban's views directly, from themselves, so that we can exchange our views and reach our decisions." Din Mohammad, whom I have known for decades, is an honest man, close to Karzai (he chose him to head the Afghan High Peace Council), and one of the most influential men in the country with ties to the Haqqani Network and to Mullah Omar. They were part of the same Mujahideen network in the 1980s. If these men can come together, and if their lustful neighbors can be kept at bay, there is hope.
Who in the French government would have the clout among the Afghans to arrange this meeting? I suspect that could be Olivier Roy, who, while not a part of the government, is one of the world's foremost authorities on Afghanistan, and on political Islam. Those who follow Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East will be familiar with his writings. He went to Afghanistan as a student in the 1970s, knows the 1980s Mujahedeen leadership, and has the knowledge, ties and the respect needed.
The Taliban, which still calls itself the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," and still considers itself the only legitimate government of Afghanistan, said that its representatives were not there to negotiate, but to state their positions. I think the meetings were important simply because they took place. But while I smiled, I was saddened again to read in Tolo that Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasool told the Afghan Senate Thursday that "It is not clear which group the two Taliban members were representing." The Afghan government has "insufficient information about the background of these men. " Remember, in 2010, when David Petraeus was in command in Afghanistan, that the U.S. brought to Kabul and "paid a lot of money to," according to the BBC, a Taliban leader, Mohammad Mansour, who is said to have met with Karzai, and U.S. officials. He was later found to be an imposter.
To quote The New York Times: "The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service," said a senior Afghan official who is familiar with the case. "They are playing games." Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, known by its initials, the ISI. Elements within the ISI have long played a 'double-game' in Afghanistan reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents."
"The ISI is an integral part of the Pakistani Army," said Major Gen. N. Babar, interior minister to Benazir Bhutto, and who helped to create and train the Mujahedeen in 1973 and rode with the Taliban into Kabul in 1996.
The state of the war
The Obama Administration is anxious to extract itself from the Afghan quagmire. We are caught in the same trap into which we lured the U.S.S.R. in 1979. The U.S. has lost over 2,000 troops, and thousands more have been maimed. It has spent $600 billion. According to The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, it is going to cost $8.7 billion more just to bring U.S. materiel home.
Over 1,200 of those troops were killed after January 2010 when the surge began, according to Reuters/The Washington Post. The war continues, and as usual, the Afghans suffer most. According to The Associated Press, more than 110 Afghan National Army soldiers and 200 Afghan police are killed every month.
According to Reuters, the Department of Defense's biannual war assessment (covering April - September) said that enemy attacks are up one percent. There were 66 insider attacks, up from 43 in 2011. In July, there were "slightly more than 3,000 enemy initiated attacks," The Associated Press reported. There were 2,000 in July 2009. "Pakistan has contributed to U.S. interests while simultaneously falling short in others," it said. This is diplomatic-speak to say that while Pakistan is helping the U.S. it is fighting the U.S. at the same time. It continues to provide sanctuary for insurgents and declines to "interdict explosives (IED) materials that come across the border."
In spite of this, it was recently reported both in The New York Times and The Washington Post that the U.S. will pay $688 million to Pakistan to cover costs for the 140,000 Pakistani troops that it keeps along the Afghan - Pakistani border. Where are these 140, 000 troops? Before the surge, the U.S. had nearly 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and travelers in eastern Afghanistan saw U.S. convoys on highways, in villages, and in the countryside, as well as U.S. helicopters and hundreds of bases. I traveled at some length in different parts of the tribal areas, and never saw a Pakistani soldier -- only Frontier Scouts and border police.
On April 14, 1988, in Geneva, representatives of the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed, after years of talks, three bilateral agreements intended to end the 10-year old Afghan-Soviet war in Afghanistan. The U.S. and the Soviet Union signed a "Declaration on International Guarantees." These documents became known as the Geneva Accords. The last Soviet troops crossed the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya, from Afghanistan back to the Soviet Union 2/15/89. The Afghan Army continued the fight with Soviet financial help against the Pakistani-backed Mujahedeen. Al Qaeda which grew out of Afghan-Soviet war, joined the fight in greater numbers. This war, in a different guise, continues today.
Just substitute the Taliban for the Mujahedeen. Up in the mountains, there is no difference between the two. To them there is no difference between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. We are both infidel invaders. Should the U.S. care after the draw-down? Morally, yes -- for we helped to start this war and to turn Afghanistan into a warzone, which led to al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the U.S. public, ignorant of and not interested in this history, wants out. We want only to assure that al Qaeda does not return to use this land again as a base from which to launch attacks against the U.S.