CNN reported today that “Taliban leaders are holding Saudi-brokered talks with the Afghan government to end the country’s bloody conflict – and are severing their ties with Al Qaeda.” The news agency noted,
The talks — the first of their kind aimed at resolving the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan — mark a significant move by the Saudi leadership to take a direct role in Afghanistan, hosting delegates who have until recently been their enemies.
The talks also mark “a sidestepping of key “war on terror” ally Pakistan…which has previously been a conduit for talks between the Saudis and Afghanistan.” According to CNN’s senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, the closed-door “breakthrough negotiations” are occurring because key Taliban leaders no longer believe they can fight their way back to power and are ready to talk. The key demand from the 11 Taliban delegates includes a timetable for the withdrawal of Coalition forces. The Saudis are in turn demanding that the Taliban, and specifically, Mullah Omar, sever ties with Al Qaeda, a demand that sources say the group has agreed to.
How significant is this development? According to Robertson, breaking the Taliban away from Al Qaeda “has got to be a good thing for the West because it weakens the stance of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” However, he acknowledged, the Taliban is not a united organization, and the “reality check” is that there is a long way to go to achieve reconciliation. Although the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists, the Saudis are prepared to go at this process alone, particularly because they have a “vested interest in a weakened Al Qaeda” and refuse to see Afghanistan “go the same way as Iraq.” Their motivations can also partly be explained by a desire to challenge the growing Iranian influence in the region.
Ultimately, however, if the key Taliban demand boils down to a withdrawal of Coalition troops, then the United States would need to weigh in on these talks. Given the constraints of the current policy, that is unlikely to happen. [Image from the AP]