US will talk to Taliban

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Today’s news lifts us above the domestic politics and point-scoring which have characterised the closing days of Australia’s 43rd Federal Parliament and the unrelenting negativity of much of our domestic media. Instead, we focus on a very significant development on the international front.

At breakfast yesterday, the serious media, including the ABC’s Radio National, led with the announcement from President Obama, as the latest G8 meeting in Northern Ireland drew to a close, that the US would re-enter direct talks with the Taliban. Earlier attempts by the two opposing sides to sit down and discussAfghanistanbroke down in early 2012.

These new talks, to be held in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban has just opened an embassy, could start as early as today. Although President Obama was at pains to emphasise that these talks are only the first step in what will be a long road, they could mark a significant departure from previous US and Western foreign policy. However, as if to underline the huge challenges which confront these talks, yesterday a Taliban attack in Afghanistan killed four US soldiers.

President Obama’s announcement coincides with the handover of control, by the NATO-led forces, to the Afghan National Army of the last 90 districts in Afghanistan, of which there are approximately 400. This is significant for several reasons. Firstly, that it’s the first time since the late 1970’s and the Russian occupation, that the nation’s security has been totally the responsibility of Afghan forces and, secondly, that it is a prerequisite, from the Taliban, for any talks with their opponents.

Read Fran Kelly’s full report on Radio National 

A (remote) glimmer of hope

One’s initial reaction could well be disbelief. The US is preparing to sit down with its avowed enemy. The Taliban, fanatical Islamists, synonymous with some of the worst human rights violations of recent years, fellow travellers with AlQaeda and responsible for a particularly cruel and repressive period of rule in Afghanistan. Wasn’t the Taliban the reason for the original deployment by the west, before President Bush Jr lost the plot and shifted the US’s focus to Iraq and its non-existent weapons of mass destruction?

No, it seems President Obama is serious and the Afghan government, led by President Karzai, was also, until a last minute change of mind, sending an official delegation to Doha to observe these initial talks. President Karzai has also announced that he would like to see the talks moved immediately to Kabul and conducted directly between his government and the Taliban.

Western powers, and especially theUS, are not in the habit of sitting down at the same table as their sworn enemies, unless the latter have capitulated. This is certainly not the case with the Taliban. But President Karzai has invited the Taliban, subject to certain conditions, to contest the next national election in June 2014.

For Australians, President Obama’s announcement should be of considerable relevance. Afghanistan is now our country’s longest running foreign military engagement; longer than WWI or WWII, Korea or even Vietnam. We have paid dearly in blood, (39 killed and hundreds injured, not to mention the long term and immeasurable psychological damage to our returning military personnel) and treasure. The total monetary cost of our long term involvement has never been disclosed.

It would be comforting to know that, when our troops, along with most of the other NATO-led forces, finally depart from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, we have achieved something worthwhile and enduring.  That even if we haven’t managed to implant a healthy democratic state in this extremely poor, historically divided and war-ravaged country, we have at least improved the lot of the Afghan people, particularly the women and children.

What do you think? Should the US be discussing the future of Afghanistan in direct talks with the Taliban? Given its track record, can the Taliban be trusted? Should Australia have deployed troops to Afghanistan and have we achieved any long term benefit?

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Written by David Fallick

25 Comments

Total Comments: 25
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    The U.S. should be familiar with Taliban given that they supported them with arms and finance when the Taliban fought the Russians. An indication of the massive errors of judgement the U.S. have made over the years in their foreign policy.
    Having said that however it has to be a good move to sit down and talk with them if a solution is ever to be found to the problems in Afghanistan. It is short sighted in the extreme to believe that an enemy must be defeated before discussions can be held with them. If there is a genuine desire to reach some form of agreement then one can only hope that peace will break out.
    We must accept however that there will be some things we don’t agree with in ant agreement reached but lets be realistic and accept that not everyone shares our beliefs.

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      well said Tom, I had the same thoughts reading the article.

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      Well said, it’s a pity that modern history is not taught either in schools or to politicians. Relative peace did not come until talks took place between the IRA and Britain. It did not come while the Palestinians led by Yassa Arafat were considered a terrorist group and no one would talk to them. It has not come in Iraq and will not come in Afghanistan until all sides are permitted to participate in discussions with all their views being respected. The Russians couldn’t beat the Taliban, neither will the ‘coalition of the willing’. Let’s face it all they have to do is to keep nibbling away until is just to expensive for the invading forces to keep going.

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    I wouldn’t trust the taliban as far as I could kick them, which isn’t far at all.
    The taliban’s only interest is to gain a foothold in power from where they can impose their extremely warped views and practices on the rest of the country.
    Being trustworthy is definitely not one of their aims.

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      I agree with 100%. The Taliban are ultra extremists, witness their killing of female students for instance. They cannot be trusted as their word to an unbeliever does not count for them. They are only taking advantage of Obama’s good faith.
      Only utter defeat will rid the world of this scourge.

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      with ‘you’ 100%. sorry

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      Agree! The ideological aim of the Taliban is to spread the spectre of Islam and promote Sharia Law in every country of the world. They will consider the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan as a victory for their cause. Watch now as the fight moves from their own shores onto ours.

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      Oldie80 says “Only utter defeat will rid the world of this scourge.” How is anyone gonna defeat them? The greatest military power in the history of the world, the USA, has been unable to prevail in twelve years of war – the longest war in its history. Read William Dalrymple’s “Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan” (Bloomsbury), which as the back cover claims is a “masterful retelling of Britain’s greatest imperial disaster”, a “parable of colonial ambition and cultural collision, folly and hubris, for our times.” It was almost unbelievable at the time that Dubya Bush, enthusiastically supported by our own Man of Steel and buoyed by post-9/11 outrage, should sate his thirst for revenge by attacking a whole country in retaliation for an attack by nineteen individuals from another one. It is even more unbelievable that the USA is still there, desperately trying to find the “peace with honour” that eluded it in Vietnam.

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    Given the number of Al Quaeda offshoot groups (and I think the Taliban can break up and regroup as the various faction leaders choose), such a series of discussions will prove useless. Unless the Taliban can enforce discipline and agreed upon policy on its adherents, such efforts are doomed to fail. The Taliban is not a government such as what exists in Iran or Jordan which can enforce its decisions and wishes on its subordinates. If internal rivalries within the Taliban erupt as rival leaders try to one-up each other to enhance their prestige and power within the group, decisions agreements and promises made would be rubbery in the extreme. Reminds me of Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” deal he made with Hitler in Munich in 1938.

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    How can you have talks with Taliban, you must never trust them, ask the mothers ,wives and children who have lost their menfolk, ask the families of service men fighting terrorists in hope to keep the world free, The Arab nations have to start fighting for themselves, and stop the terror for ever.
    the Taliban version of Islam is one of fear, no one should live under such a regime. Read about the suffering under them, Wally is right.

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    I dont know why anyone would be bothered talking to them… They, like many governments just cannot be trusted.

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    No to all the questions.

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    Absolutely not!!!
    These are not the sort of people with whom the US or any other legitimate state should enter into talks.. As for their opening an “embassy” in Dohar, that is as meaningless as the Aboriginal “Embassy” in Canberra and would prove to be just as useful.
    No conceivable good could flow from giving them any semblance of legitimacy.

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      Paddles
      Have you gone to the Aboriginal Embassy and talk to the people running the Embassy or have you just made a meaningless statement.
      I was a ward of the Queensland State till I was 16 and treated like I was a low life by a meaningless State Department and they had a semblance of legitimacy and so should the Aboriginal Embassy have legitimacy.

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      big 1

      I guess I am a traditionalist and probably a pedant. In other words, titles, words etc have a defined meaning and there is centuries of history and tradition that go to define the word “Embassy” and that rag-tag collection of tents or humpies does not meet the definition. To me, it is more in the nature of a standing testament to a protest movement and shouldn’t be dignified by its assumed title.

      That said, I am not a racist and the overwhelming emotion evoked when considering the plight of our indigenes is pity and sadness. I have had many aboriginal friends over the years and some of them are among the most respected.

      Notwithstanding my personal experience, I do not think I am qualified to set out a plan for their advancement but I am sure of one thing, and that is improvement in their lot MUST come from them and their leaders.

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    Didn’t the U S talk to the North Vietnam delegate in France and came up with a deal for peace
    for South Vietnam , then walked away from the South leaving empty promises.

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    Hi big 1. You seem to overlook the fact that North Vietnam had a government that had total control of their population. Taliban is a motley collection of warlords and fanatics that are a throwback to the anarchic Dark Ages of Europe.
    As far as walking away from corrupt governments is concerned, the sooner the better, whether in Afghanistan or South Vietnam. If the people see no reason to support their government in military service, they deserve what they get. Too bad for the children, but you can’t nursemaid everybody, no matter how much the bleeding hearts gush..
    .

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      No warlords in the Taliban, Wally. Not when the USA, Australia etc invaded, anyway. I’m told that the warlords of the Northern Alliance are even more fanatically fundamentalist, savage and corrupt than the Taliban, yet they’ve been supported by the USA to the tune of billions of dollars. The Taliban is at least consistent in its treatment of women, for example, whereas the warlords mete out punishments arbitrarily.

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    The article says “It would be comforting to know that, when our troops … finally depart from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, we have achieved something worthwhile and enduring.” Comforting??! All those Australian lives and money, and all that carnage and civilian casualties, and it would be comforting to know that we’d achieved something worthwhile and enduring! What a waste. What a stupid decision to go in there with troops when it was a police operation that was required. The Taliban was prepared to hand over OBL but they wanted to see the evidence that he was responsible for 9/11. Bush’s response? A cruise missile. Now the Americans – and we Australians, and others – have followed the Persians, and the British, and the Russians, in being forced to make an ignominious exit. Well done arrogant Bush. Well done obsequious Howard. Either the West continues to bleed in Afghanistan or it withdraws and watches the Taliban take the country back. In either case Australia will not have achieved any long term benefit. Howard, Downer, Rudd, Gillard etc should be called to account – now THAT would be comforting.

    Taliban beliefs and practices are despicable, in my view, but that doesn’t justify, in international law, or in any reasonable moral compass, a full-scale invasion of a country, just as it didn’t in Iraq. And a basic knowledge of Afghan history would have made it plain that any invasion would be doomed to fail.

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      ghoti

      I would question your statement that…………….”The Taliban was prepared to hand over OBL but they wanted to see the evidence that he was responsible for 9/11.”

      I think that that is spurious and doesn’t accord with the scenes of unbridled joy throughout much of the Middle East as a consequence of the 9/11 attack.

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      Paddles,

      It is perfectly understandable that after 9/11 some people in the Middle East expressed delight that the USA had got some of its own back – those affected by Clinton’s gratuitous bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, for example, as a result of which more innocent civilians died than on 9/11. But whether or not my statement is spurious is unrelated to the scenes of unbridled joy that were reported. I read somewhere, at the time and since, that the Taliban wanted to see the evidence before they handed one of their citizens over – not an unreasonable request, methinks (if only Howard and Downer had been as protective of Hicks; if only Gillard and Carr were as protective of Assange). The claim might have been wrong – how do I know? But how do you know that it is spurious? We are all subject to propaganda from all sides at all times. The only thing to do is to read widely and gradually get a feel for who is telling the truth. So much of what the USA has said has turned out to be blatant lies that I don’t believe anything they say. I don’t believe the Taliban, either, nor the Australian government – I am sceptical of all official “truths”. But the story of Bush contemptuously dismissing the Taliban’s request by sending a cruise missile sounds plausible. Bush was so keen, for various reasons, to wage war that he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way.

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