Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mutawakil's hint: Is negotiation possible?

On CNN Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, former foreign minister for the Taliban, said that negotiation with the Taliban was possible. Also, Taliban commander Mullah Toor Jan has recently said that the Afghan Taliban had no connection with Al Qaida or with Pakistan’s Tehrik-i Taliban, the Taliban that have challenged the Pakistani military. Comments to make us wonder.
As for Mutawakil, what he says is worth taking seriously because he seems to be -- even now -- a key link between the leadership of the Taliban and the American military. I went back to the transcript, to be sure of what he actually said. Not a lot, it turns out, but it is enough to be suggestive: Is it a hint of a chance of a deal with the Taliban? [Click on the title for a link to the CNN site it comes from.] Here are the key statements:

MUTAWAKIL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The common Taliban do not believe in the peace process. They don't trust it.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): But Mutawakil says its leadership is open to negotiation. ...

MUTAWAKIL: We are not a danger to the world. We can be flexible.

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): Only reconciling with Hekmatyar will not solve the problem. If they do not negotiate with the representative of Mullah Omar, it will be useless.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): Mutawakil says the Taliban realize they can't turn back the clock to early 2001.

(on camera): Could they accept a government where women are granted rights, women can -- are allowed to go to school?

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): They will won't believe in co- education, but there can be separate education while wearing veils. This will be different.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): He says the current Taliban leadership is more focused on driving out foreigners than Islamic crusade, but admits a lot of young Afghan fighters have been influenced by years of contact with the foreign jihadists.

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): The new generation of Taliban, the young boys who joined with them, they are different. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: The mullah told me that some American diplomats have already visited him to talk about Afghanistan's future. But he says the price of any deal could be taking the bounty off the heads of some Taliban leaders or even giving them control of some provinces . . . .

This, let us hope, is a possible opening. But it is clear, as Mutawakil intimated, that Mullah Muhammad Omar does not control all of the groups that call themselves "Taliban"; indeed, Mutawakil specifically rejected any point in talking to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former Mujahedin leader against the Soviets and now a leader of one of the "Taliban" factions. And he admits that many young people have come under the influence of the more extreme of the Islamists connected with the Taliban; presumably there is no negotiating for them either.

So, if it means anything it means only that some Taliban might be willing to talk.

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