The Afghan Taliban issued a statement Sunday to mark the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Written in English, the Taliban’s statement alleges that the U.S. faces “utter defeat in Afghanistan militarily, politically, economically and in all other facets”. The statement also notes that despite the “large amounts of military and economical assets” spent by the U.S. in Afghanistan, “no American is safe in any society today.”
British think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), however, released a report this week that places the Taliban in a much different light. Based on interviews with four Taliban higher-ups, the report suggests that the group realizes it cannot win the war and is willing to engage in peace negotiations in exchange for a political role following NATO’s planned withdrawal in 2014. Upon the signing of a peace agreement, the Taliban leadership would obey a command issued by its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to renounce al-Qaeda and ensure that it would not return to Afghanistan. The Taliban would also possibly be open to a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan following 2014, the report notes.
A British military official in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. (Photo: Abdul Khaleq/AP)
Although the Taliban denied the think tank’s report, it has engaged in peace talks, albeit preliminary ones, with the U.S. in the past. In June 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that the U.S. and Taliban members had begun initial talks. In March 2012, however, the Taliban formally withdrew from talks with the U.S. because of “the shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans,” according to a statement by the organization. The Taliban reportedly continues to refuse to hold talks with the U.S. until the White House fulfills its prisoner swap demand involving a U.S. soldier and five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay.
Bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table is central to the Obama administration’s exit strategy that plans to end the Afghan war not only on the battlefield but in the political arena as well. Of course, there’s no telling if the Taliban’s 9/11 statement or the RUSI report better reflects the actual leadership’s strategy. But one thing’s for sure: Only serious concessions from the Taliban that would guarantee its willingness to be one of multiple parties with equal rights within the Afghan government system would turn the negotiating table into a complementary tool to ending the Afghan war.