NYT, October 13, 2010
U.S. Aids Taliban to Attend Talks on Making Peace
By THOM SHANKER, DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT
BRUSSELS — United States-led forces are permitting the movement of senior Taliban leaders to attend initial peace talks in Kabul, the clearest indication of American support for high-level discussions aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, senior NATO and Obama administration officials said.
Though the talks are preliminary, he said, the prospect of negotiating a settlement of the war effort, now nine years old, is alluring enough that personnel from NATO nations in Afghanistan "have indeed facilitated to various degrees the contacts" by allowing Taliban leaders to travel to the Afghan capital.
Mr. Karzai has been trying for many months to persuade Taliban leaders to join his government, and the efforts intensified late last year after President Obama said that he intended to begin scaling back American troop levels in Afghanistan by the summer of 2011. American officials had earlier insisted that such talks were a sideshow to the main war effort and that they were unlikely to produce results until the Taliban felt weakened by the intensified NATO assault.
Now, some officials appear eager to show that they are pursuing a new approach in Afghanistan that explores a possible political settlement even as the military tries to step up pressure on the Taliban.
The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, told reporters in Afghanistan recently that high-level Taliban leaders were reaching out to senior Afghan officials to start discussions. General Petraeus seems determined to show progress on achieving American goals in Afghanistan — both military and political — ahead of a December review of the war effort ordered by Mr. Obama.
Support for talks also comes as American officials have expressed a growing frustration with the complex role played by Pakistan, which provides safe haven for many insurgents and has ambitions of dictating the postwar political situation in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has insisted that any lasting solution in Afghanistan must involve reconciliation with the Taliban, and has urged the United States to participate in peace talks. At the same time, Pakistan has disrupted some efforts by Mr. Karzai to reach out to Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan, presumably because he made those overtures without Pakistan's approval.
It is not clear which Taliban leaders have been allowed to travel to Kabul to conduct talks with Mr. Karzai's government. The NATO official also did not disclose what members of NATO's Afghanistan force, the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, have done to support the talks beyond offering safe passage to insurgents participating in the discussions.
"It would be extremely difficult for a senior Taliban member to get to Kabul without being killed or captured if ISAF were not witting," the official said. "And ISAF is witting."
In Washington, officials have been more cautious about prospects for a peaceful settlement. One senior American official noted recently that the Taliban, while war-weary, had little incentive to make concessions because they still had the sense that they could outlast the American presence in the country. Mr. Karzai, others noted, can be an erratic negotiator, and part of the mystery in Kabul is whether he is keeping American and NATO allies abreast of his conversations.
Mr. Obama signed off on a policy early this year that talks were possible as long as Taliban leaders, at the end of the process, agreed to renounce violence, lay down their arms, and pledge fidelity to the Afghan Constitution.
... [now this is definitely taqiya. thanks, o'bummer!]