Karzai Government “Talks” with Taliban – The Explanation

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times described the current situation between the Taliban and Karzai’s Afghan government perfectly: “The Taliban represent a premodern Islamist movement; the other is a Western-backed democracy …. President Hamid Karzai has insisted that discussions cannot begin until the Taliban agree to accept the Afghan Constitution and disarm. The Taliban have insisted that talks can’t start until Western forces leave the country.”[i]


Yet, in late September and the beginning of October 2010, reports came out that “Taliban representatives and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai have begun secret, high-level talks over a negotiated end to the war.”[ii] After both sides vehemently denied such talks, Karzai announced the creation of a “High Peace Council” consisting of 70 members. The 70-member group includes prominent people from the former Taliban government as well as “factional leaders who have dominated the wars and politics of the past 30 years, and who have been fighting the Taliban for half that time.”[iii] The rationale is that in a forum for discussion, both sides can create meaningful policy that could lead to negotiations. The High Peace Council was even endorsed by a jirga, which is a traditional gathering of elders.[iv]


To further facilitate the secret talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban, NATO forces have helped some of the Taliban leadership move from the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to locations such as around Kabul.[v] “Taliban leaders coming into Afghanistan for talks have left their havens in Pakistan on the explicit assurance that they will not be attacked or arrested by NATO forces.”[vi] NATO forces even utilized NATO aircraft for transportation and secured roads for safe passage.[vii]


However, the negotiations also come at a time of heightened attacks carried out by the United States in and around the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. This rugged and mountainous tribal area is alleged to be a safe haven for terrorist organizations and their leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban organization known as the Quetta Shura, is also thought to be in the tribal area. Are the Karzai government discussions with the Taliban a coincidence? Perhaps not. The emergence of these “talks” and the escalation of military power in the region suggest that the United States might be inserting itself into the situation.


The United States has two reasons for urging things along. The first is “the heightened sense of urgency among American officials to accelerate the pace of events – not just on the ground and in the calculations of the Taliban’s leaders, but also in the minds of the American people, whose patience … is rapidly draining away.”[viii] The second is the withdrawal deadline looming in the future. President Obama originally declared that troop withdrawal and transfer would begin in July of 2011.[ix] As of December 2010, the President was still trying to keep that deadline due to political pressure from members of Congress as well as the general public.[x] Obama affirmed this deadline in his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, saying “this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.”[xi] Yet, in November 2010 at a NATO summit in Lisbon, NATO and the Afghanistan government determined that a 2014 withdrawal would be more attainable.[xii] Even after this 2014 deadline, “NATO officials acknowledged that allied forces would remain in Afghanistan, at least in a support role, well beyond that date.”[xiii] Although there seems to be a discrepancy in the withdrawal timeline, the Obama administration’s position is that the planned 2014 withdrawal complies with President Obama’s pledge.


Despite U.S. support for the secret talks, a major hindrance to the Afghan discussion with the Taliban still exists: Pakistan. The tribal region of Pakistan is obviously a concern, and therefore Pakistan’s support in discussions with the Taliban is absolutely necessary. However, Pakistan’s actions demonstrate that it is less than willing to help. “The Pakistani Army and its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, continue, by most accounts, to support the Taliban” by giving them a safe haven.[xiv] In the past, the ISI even detained Taliban leaders they thought were participating in negotiations.[xv] According to a White House internal report, “the Pakistani military ‘continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or [al Qaeda] forces.”[xvi] The failure of the Pakistani government to combat terrorist organizations located in its tribal regions “led to the CIA use of unmanned aerial vehicles to fire missiles targeted at killing suspected militants .… That effort started during the Bush administration and has increased dramatically under President Obama.”[xvii] But while the United States increased its drone attacks, Pakistan “rejected a U.S. request to expand drone access to more of the country” and denied that the Quetta Shura was currently residing in the tribal areas.[xviii]


Additionally, two classified intelligence reports from the National Intelligence Estimates were released at the end of 2010. The National Intelligence Estimates are the collective findings of the entire United States intelligence community. These particular reports on both Afghanistan and Pakistan note that “insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.”[xix] The military criticizes the reports as out-of-date since the information cut-off was at the beginning of October 2010 and therefore the report does not include tactical gains made after that.[xx] “The dispute between the military and intelligence agencies reflects how much the debate in Washington over the war is now centered on whether the United States can succeed in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan, which despite years of American pressure has resisted routing militants on its border.”[xxi] Thus, without Pakistan’s assistance, a long-term peace agreement will be difficult.


Another hindrance to the peace process involves the identity of the individual Taliban officials. A man claiming to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a senior Taliban leader, had been participating in talks.[xxii] He received money and guidance from the United States. Yet, U.S. officials now say the man is not Mansour.[xxiii] This occurrence underscores the difficulty in holding such talks because many of the high-ranking Taliban officials have never been seen by United States or coalition forces, so it is easy for an impostor to pretend to be someone else.[xxiv]


Lastly, there might be signs that the Taliban are not as threatening as once thought. The perception of the Taliban is that they go hand-in-hand with Al Qaeda. Yet, a New York University report from February 2011 discusses friction between the two groups prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.[xxv] According to the report, the Taliban had no advance knowledge of the attacks, a fact that may point to a divide between the two groups: Al Qaeda engages in international terrorism, but the Taliban do not.[xxvi] Moreover, the Taliban seem to be willing to negotiate with Karzai’s government and vice versa; Al Qaeda does not negotiate.


So how does all of this relate to the issue of detention in Afghanistan? If the Karzai government and the Taliban (and the U.S.) negotiate to end the conflict and the Detention Facility in Parwan is transferred to Afghan control,[xxvii] some of the detainees who have affiliations to the Taliban could potentially be freed or have their sentences commuted. Additionally, despite the plans to hand over prison control to the Afghan government, the United States currently intends to retain some control over the Detention Facility in Parwan “as a bid to prevent the release of detainees who could pose a danger to allied troops.”[xxviii] The Karzai government might rethink this plan and, as a gesture of goodwill towards the Taliban, take full control of the detention facility. Therefore, it is plausible that the plan to retain control over that area inside the Detention Facility in Parwan could change in the coming months.


In sum, the impact of the discussions between Karzai’s Afghanistan government and the Taliban remains to be seen. Discussions took place in the past with no meaningful outcome. Karzai is hoping to change that track record by voicing his support for a Taliban office in a neutral location – Turkey – to hold the talks.[xxix] But no matter what location the talks are held in, the same problems exist. Pakistan’s position remains to be seen. Moreover, the negotiations’ effectiveness is difficult to evaluate without knowing the identities of the high-ranking Taliban officers. It was originally reported that Mullah Mohammad Omar gave his blessings to the Taliban officers in attendance. Yet, Omar denied that he gave any support whatsoever and even denied the existence of such talks.[xxx] Additionally, the effectiveness of the discussions may have decreased due to that impostor in their midst. If the talks are without the blessing of the Quetta Shura leader, without Pakistan’s true support, and without the ability to confirm the identities of participating members, it is hard to determine if these talks will bring forth a peaceful solution to the conflict.

[i] Dexter Filkins, In Afghanistan, the Exit Plan Starts With If, N.Y. Times, Oct. 16, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/weekinreview/17filkins.html.

[ii] Karen DeYoung, Peter Finn, & Greg Whitlock, Taliban in High-level Talks with Karzai Government, Sources Say, Wash. Post, Oct. 6, 2010, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/05/AR2010100506249.html.

[iii] Carlotta Call, Karzai Names Peace Panel for Taliban Negotiations, N.Y. Times,Sept. 28, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/world/asia/29afghan.html.

[iv] Afghan Peace Jirga to Offer Concessions to Taliban, Geo Television Network, Oct. 22, 2010, available at http://www.geo.tv/10-22-2010/73225.htm.

[v] Dexter Filkins, Taliban Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace, N.Y. Times, Oct. 19, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/world/asia/20afghan.html.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Filkins, supra note 1.

[ix] Anna Mulrine, Mixed Messages from Obama, Petraeus on Afghanistan Pullout, Christian Sci. Monitor, Sept. 23, 2010, available at http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2010/0923/Mixed-messages-from-Obama-Petraeus-on-Afghanistan-pullout.

[x] Helen Cooper & David E. Sanger, Obama Cites Afghan Gains as Report Says Exit is on Track, N.Y. Times, Dec.16, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/world/asia/17afghan.html.

[xi] Barack Obama, U.S. President, State of the Union Address (Jan. 25, 2011), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address .

[xii] Steve Erlanger & Jackie Calmes, NATO Sees Long-Term Role After Afghan Combat, N.Y. Times,Sept. 20, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/world/europe/21nato.html.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Filkins, supra note 1.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Ed Henry, White House Report Critical of Pakistan’s Activity Against Militants, CNN, Oct. 6, 2010, available at http://articles.cnn.com/2010-10-06/us/report.pakistan.military_1_pakistani-military-forces-north-waziristan-pakistani-troops?_s=PM:US.

[xvii] Pam Benson, 9 Years in Afghanistan: Experts See Worldwide War with No End in Sight, CNN, Oct. 7, 2010, available at http://articles.cnn.com/2010-10-07/politics/afghanistan.nine.years_1_taliban-army-cia-boss-afghanistan?_s=PM:POLITICS.

[xviii]Pakistan Denies U.S. Request to Expand Drone Access, Officials Say, CNN, Nov. 22, 2010, available at http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-22/world/pakistan.us.drones_1_drone-strike-quetta-shura-intelligence-officials?_s=PM:WORLD.

[xix] Elizabeth Bumiller, Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War, N.Y. Times, Dec. 14, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/world/asia/15policy.html.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] Dexter Filkins & Carlotta Gall, Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor, N.Y. Times, Nov. 22, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/world/asia/23kabul.html.

[xxiii] Id.

[xxiv] Id.

[xxv] Carlotta Gall, N.Y.U. Report Casts Doubt on Taliban’s Ties with Al Qaeda, N.Y. Times, Feb. 6, 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/world/asia/07afghan.html.

[xxvi] Id.

[xxvii] For a discussion of current plans for handing over DFIP detainees to Afghanistan, see (hyperlink Paul’s post)

[xxviii] Julian E. Barnes, U.S. Seeks Role in Afghan Jail, Wall St. J., Sept. 22, 2010, available athttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703399404575505864255940020.html?KEYWORDS=afghanistan.

[xxix] Report: Karzai Open to Taliban Setting Up Office in Turkey, CNN, Dec. 25, 2010, available at http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/12/25/turkey.afghanistan.taliban/index.html.

[xxx] Filkins & Gall, supra note 22.


The Haqqani Network and the Peace Process

By Carl Zander

The Haqqani network has existed in Afghanistan and the tribal area of Pakistan for decades, aligning itself with various parties through the years it has managed to exert its influence and become a pivotal player in the Afghan conflict. Led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has made its name as a violent insurgent group that operates in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan like a sort of Mafia.[1] While operating for decades, including a time when it was receiving weapons and support from the CIA, the Haqqani network has gained increasing infamy in the last several months as it has staged more prominent and brutal attacks against Afghan and U.S. forces.

Throughout the 1980s Jalaluddin Haqqani waged war as a mujahedeen against the Soviet forces that occupied Afghanistan. During this time Haqqani, and his supporters, received arms and money from intelligence agencies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States. It was also during this time that Haqqani met and forged a relationship with Osama bin Laden. Haqqani and his forces proved so effective in fighting off the Soviets that he received an invitation to visit President Reagan in the White House and was described by Rep. Charlie Wilson, who championed the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as “goodness personified.”[2] Following the withdrawal of Soviet forces Haqqani remained an influential figure in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban rose to power in the 1990s they sought to recruit Haqqani and his men to solidify their power in Afghanistan. The link with the rising power of the Taliban proved advantageous for both the Haqqanis and the Taliban. The Taliban supported Haqqani with money and manpower and he aided them in their battles to consolidate power in Afghanistan. The relationship between the Haqqanis and Taliban was one of convenience. Haqqani, a battle toughened fighter, remained fiercely independent and at times resented the Taliban leadership. Despite this, Jalaluddin “remained loyal to Mullah Omar” through the course of the regime.[3]

Since the U.S. invasion and the fall of the Taliban regime the Haqqani network has continued to remain closely aligned with the Taliban. The Haqqanis have moved their base of operations to Miram Shah, the largest city in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan.[4] The network has created a safe haven of sorts in North Waziristan where it is free from incursions from U.S. ground forces (although it does face drone attacks) and the Pakistani security services.[5] From Miram Shah, the Haqqanis have perpetrated upwards of twenty complex, high-profile assaults on U.S. forces as well as numerous smaller exchanges of force.[6]

Perhaps the most impressive and destructive of these attacks was the day-long assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Beginning on September 13, 2011 the Haqqanis launched an assault on the Embassy that would last for nineteen hours and leave sixteen people dead. This attack more than any other put the Haqqani network on the map and showed the complexity and skill with which they are able to operate.[7]

Despite this attack and others that have followed the United States has expressed an interest in negotiating with the Haqqani network to achieve peace in Afghanistan.[8] On a recent visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded, according to reports, that “Pakistan’s spy agency either deliver the Haqqani network … to the negotiating table or help them fight” the network.[9] While the statement by Clinton may appear odd considering the scale and frequency of the attacks the Haqqanis have perpetrated on U.S. and NATO forces, it is an acknowledgement of how crucial the Haqqani network would be to establishing peace in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has also called for peace talks with the Haqqani network.[10] In the past the Haqqanis have expressed an interest in peace talks, but what they have said is that they would back the Taliban in its peace talks. Their belief is that the peace talks have been initiated so as to break up their alliance with the Taliban in order to weaken both groups’ position.[11]

The Haqqanis coming to negotiate peace with the U.S. and Afghan government appears to be very much dependent on the disposition of the Pakistani military and the Taliban. The Pakistani military appears to have some influence over the network as it is believed that they provide it with money and protection.[12] The Taliban too appears to have influence in its ties with the Haqqanis that have remained since the 1990s.[13] Negotiating with the Haqqanis would take support from both groups. The likelihood of this happening appears bleak, but negotiating appears to be the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

[1] Mark Mazzeti, Scott Shane & Alissa J. Rubin, Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan, N.Y. Times, Sept. 24, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/world/asia/brutal-haqqani-clan-bedevils-united-states-in-afghanistan.html?ref=haqqaninetwork.

[2] Guy Adams, From ‘Goodness Personified’ to Deadly CIA Attack Suspect, The Independent, Jan. 2, 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/from-goodness-personified-to-deadly-cia-attack-suspect-1855399.html.

[3] Jeffrey A. Dressler, Afghanistan Report 6: The Haqqani Network, Institute for the Study of War, Oct. 2010, http://www.understandingwar.org/files/Haqqani_Network_Nov2011edits.pdf.

[4] Id.

[5] Jeffrey Dressler, The Haqqani Network and the Threat to Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs, Nov. 11, 2011, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136661/jeffrey-dressler/the-haqqani-network-and-the-threat-to-afghanistan

[6] Jeffrey Dressler, Dealing With the Haqqani Network, Foreign Policy, Sept. 23, 2011, http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/09/23/dealing_with_the_haqqani_network.

[7] Jack Healy & Alissa J Runin, U.S. Blames Pakistan-Based Group for Attack on Embassy in Kabul, Sept. 14, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/world/asia/us-blames-kabul-assault-on-pakistan-based-group.html?pagewanted=all.

[8] Pir Zubair Shah & Carlotta Gall, For Pakistan, Deep Ties to Militant Network May Trump U.S. Pressure, New York Times, Oct. 31, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/world/asia/haqqani-militants-act-like-pakistans-protected-partners.html?ref=haqqaninetwork.

[9] Alex Rodriguez, U.S. Changes Approach to Pressing Pakistan on Haqqani Network, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/21/world/la-fg-clinton-pakistan-20111022.

[10]Karzai Urges Talks with Haqqani Network in Pakistan, Oct. 23, 2011, Dawn.com, http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/23/karzai-urges-talks-with-haqqani-network-in-pakistan.html.

[11] Dean Nelson, Feared Haqqani Network Announce Support for Taliban Peace Talks, Telegraph, Sept. 17, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8770587/Feared-Haqqani-network-announce-support-for-Taliban-peace-talks.html.

[12] See Shah & Gall, supra note 7.

[13] See Dressler, supra note 3.