Obama, Karzai Still Split on Peace Talks with Taliban

IPS — U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought to portray a united front on the issue of a political settlement with the Taliban in their joint press conference Wednesday. But their comments underlined the deep rift that divides Karzai and the United States over the issue.

Karzai obtained Obama’s approval for the peace jirga scheduled for later this month — an event the Obama administration had earlier regarded with grave doubt because of Karzai’s ostensible invitation to the Taliban to participate.

On the broader question of reconciliation, however, Obama was clearly warning Karzai not to pursue direct talks with the Taliban leadership, at least until well into 2011.

Karzai played down the Taliban role in a peace jirga, saying that it was the “thousands of Taliban who are not against Afghanistan, or against the Afghan people… who are not against America either…” who would be addressed at the conference.

But he also acknowledged that the jirga would discuss how to approach at least some in the Taliban leadership about peace talks.

Karzai said, “Those within the Taliban leadership structure who, again, are not part of al Qaeda or the terrorist networks, or ideologically against Afghanistan’s progress and rights and constitution, democracy, the place of women in the Afghan society, the progress that they’ve made… are welcome.”

The “peace consultative jirga”, he said, would be “consulting the Afghan people, taking their advice on how and through which means and which speed should the Afghan government proceed in the quest for peace”.

Karzai thus made it clear that he would be taking his cues on peace talks with the Taliban from popular sentiment rather than from Washington.

That could not have been a welcome message to the Obama administration, because of Karzai’s well-known pattern of catering to views of the Pashtun population, which are overwhelmingly favourable to peace talks with the Taliban.

Obama endorsed the peace jirga, but he limited U.S. support to “reintegration of those [Taliban] individuals into Afghan society”.

Obama pointedly referred to what had evidently been a contentious issue in their private meeting — his insistence that moves toward reconciliation with the Taliban should not go forward until after the U.S. military has carried out Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan for southern Afghanistan.

“One of the things I emphasised to President Karzai,” said Obama, adding “however”, to indicate that it was a matter of disagreement, “is that the incentives for the Taliban to lay down arms, or at least portions of the Taliban to lay down arms, and make peace with the Afghan government in part depends on our effectiveness in breaking their momentum militarily.”

Obama asserted that “the timing” of the reconciliation process was linked to U.S. military success, because that success would determine when the Taliban “start making different calculations about what’s in their interests”.

Neither Obama nor Karzai gave any hint that the Afghan president had agreed with that point. Karzai openly sided with tribal elders in Kandahar who were vocally opposed to the U.S. military occupation of Kandahar City and surrounding districts at a large shura Apr. 4.

An administration official who is familiar with the Obama-Karzai meeting confirmed to IPS Thursday that the differences between the two over the issue of peace talks remained, but that the administration regards it as positive that Karzai was at least consulting with Obama on his thinking.

Before the Karzai-Obama meeting, the official said, “A lot of people were jumping to the conclusion that [Karzai and the Taliban] are talking about deals. Now he is talking to us before making any back room deals.”

The official indicated that the Obama administration is not open to the suggestion embraced by Karzai that reconciliation might be pursued with some of the Taliban leadership. “We’d have a lot of problems with someone saying ‘these Taliban are acceptable, but these people aren’t’,” the official told IPS.

Obama’s forceful opposition to any political approach to any Taliban leadership until after the counterinsurgency strategy has been tried appears to represent a policy that has been hammered out within the administration at the insistence of Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Gen. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Obama had suggested in a White House meeting March 12 that it might be time to initiate talks with the Taliban, the New York Times reported March 13, but Gates and McChrystal apparently prevailed on him to abandon that suggestion and accept their position during the preparations for the Karzai visit.

McChrystal does not want any suggestion that either the United States or the Afghan government are contemplating negotiations with the Taliban while he is trying to get the population of Kandahar to believe that U.S. forces are not going to leave for a long time. Agreeing to negotiate with the Taliban would imply a readiness to agree to a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

McChrystal has not explained, however, why the target population of Kandahar or Helmand province would conclude within only a few months at most that U.S. troops will remain indefinitely, or why the same population should assume that the Taliban can be eliminated from its longtime political base.

Even though Obama is now committed to postponing negotiations, moreover, the administration is not denying that negotiations with the Taliban will be necessary. There is no timetable for when such negotiations might begin, but the official did not rule out the possibility after U.S. military operations and a series of events over the next year, including the peace jirga and parliamentary elections, had “put pressure” on the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the administration views Karzai’s peace jirga as useful in getting the process of reconciliation started.

“It’s a delicate balance,” the administration official admitted.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. His latest book, with John Kiriakou, is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis: From CIA Coup to the Brink of War. Read other articles by Gareth.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on May 14th, 2010 at 9:00am #

    Both Obama and Karzai know that American-NATO forces have been defeated by Taliban. While Obama cannot pull out of Afghanistan without the approval of Israel Lobby or US military complex – Hamid Karzai want to revamp his reputation by being a ‘nationalist’ who wants the occupation forces to pull out of Afghanistan.

    Obama administration also fear that Karzai is tilting too much toward Tehran.

    Ahmadinejad ruffles US feathers in Kabul

  2. bozh said on May 14th, 2010 at 9:54am #

    OK! Karzai sounds important?! What now? But u gussed it! Another peace talks; patterned and pattented by euro-amero-israelis.

    Which means that US wld negotiate only with arafat `93 but not arafat `51 or `92.
    So the mekyatar`s time to talk with USans may come in `30s? And karzai`s time to talk to US may come s`mtime 40s? And my time to talk to US comes when? Never! Not that i wld ever talk to that animal anyhow! tnx

  3. mary said on May 19th, 2010 at 2:08am #

    Like all the other newspapers, I assume that the NYT shared in the push for this war. It now reports on the number of American dead. Is it beginning to have doubts?

    Afghanistan: 1,000 Americans Dead

    “Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two.”


  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 19th, 2010 at 3:12am #

    mary, the NYT is owned by Zionist Jews, and they know their duty and communicate it to their loyally Zionist propaganda apparatchiks, who act accordingly in brainwashing the public in Islamophobic bloodlust. Destruction of Iran and Pakistan, the continued occupation and destruction of Iraq (anyone who imagines that the Great Satan has built thirty billion or so of bases just to hand them over and withdraw is ‘a suitable case for treatment’) and the spread of the War of Terror to Yemen, Eritrea and God only knows where is a quasi-religious Zionist obligation. “The Zionist Plan for the Middle East”, Netanyahu et fellow psychopath’s “A Clean Break” and various reiterations since, all outline a genocidal plan to destroy all the Islamic states of the Middle East and replace them with powerless statelets, along ethnic and sectarian lines, run by psychotic Quisling despots like Mubarrak. This plan is meant to cement Israel’s total dominance, behind which the creation of Eretz Yisrael ‘from the Nile to the Euphrates’ and the concommittant expulsion of the non-Jewish inhabitants ‘elsewhere’ can proceed. Moreover it positions Israel’s puppet, the USA, to dominate the vast hydrocarbon wealth of the region and begin to throttle China and Russia. This also is a Zionist priority as Zionists fear and hate China greatly as they do not control that emerging superpower as they do so completely the corrupt West. Not forgetting either, that for the religious fanatics who rule Israel, and their ‘Christian Zionist’ allies in the USA, the bloodletting, the killing of millions, is a form of perverted religious observance, thoroughly sanctified by a racist and fascist interpretation of Judaic law. As the Yesha Council of Rabbis and Torah Sages decreed in 2006, according to this perverted religious doctrine,killing civilians is not a crime, but a ‘mitzvah’ or good deed. Similar declarations, including the necessity and admissability of killing children have been made on numerous occasions by Judaic clerical fascists, but these are suppressed by the Zionist controlled Western mainstream media.