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Asia-Pacific

Afghan officials carry out back channel talks with Taliban - reports

media Afghan security forces patrolling the streets in Kabul REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The Associated Press reported that Afghan officials are carrying out backdoor talks with the Taliban despite  a month of brutal bombings and attacks by the militants that killed nearly 200. Earlier on, US President Donald Trump rejected any possibility of negotiations.

The persistence of these reports on these back-channel contacts may be a reflection of a desire to keep a door open for reconciliation, even as the Taliban gain territory and  become increasingly ruthless.

Basically the Taliban don’t think they should be talking to the Afghan government. The Taliban think they should be talking to the Americans
Afghanistan Taliban talks 13/02/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

“These kind of reports come out regularly,” says Martine van Bijlert, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analyst Netwerk

“The peace talks are going on and the different sides are trying to feel their way to see what’s possible. Some of it leaks into the media, and some of it gets reported.

“Because a lot of people are actually waiting for the talks to take place. There are often been talked up. So the significance is that backdoor talks are continuing, but other than that, not much is happening,” she says.

At the same time that these rumors about talks hit the headlines, the Taliban invited Republican senator Rand Paul to come to Doha where they have an office.

That invitation came after an interview that Rand Paul gave to the Fox News Network. He said that the US spends some 50 Billion US dollar on Afghanistan every year, and that money is wasted.

‘I can give a raise to every soldier out there if we just come home from Afghanistan,” he told Fox News.

“It is time to come home, there is no military victory there, and I said the other they, you want to have a parade, let’s bring’em home from Afghanistan, all 14,000, declare victory, we got the enemy, we killed Bin Laden.

“Our problem is that our foreign policy does not know how to declare victory, we continue to fight and fight and fight, and try to create a nation. And we are just not very good at nation building. Time to come home and doe some nation building in our own country.

The words were welcomed by the Taliban and resulted in a tweeted invitation.

Analysts see nothing strange in the apparent contradiction between Trumps rejection of talks, and a possible rapprochement between the Taliban and another member of the Grand Old Party.

“After the announcement of [the Afghanistan] policy, we have seen the Americans encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan coming closer,” says Abdullah Khan, Director of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies in Islamabad.

“We have also seen some ice breaking between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Americans were instrumental in that.

“So the icebreaking between Afghanistan and Pakistan is just because of the American pressure on both sides,” he said.

“So whatever Trump is saying is something for public consumption and in practice on the ground, the Americans are actually encouraging the peace talks between different state holders.”

But all the rumors and proposals seem to only add to the confusion.

“There is very little agreement on who should be talking to each other,” says van Bijlert.

“Basically the Taliban don’t think they should be talking to the Afghan government. The Taliban think they should be talking to the Americans, because they think they are the ones that are behind the war.

“They are also the ones that deposed the Taliban regime, when it was there. The Americans don’t agree.

The Americans say the Taliban has to talk to the Afghan government. And the Afghan government has to talk to the Taliban. It is an inter-Afghan issue. “So they don’t want to be part of that at all.”

The question remains whether the Afghanistan government can manage to walk the fine line that will prevent the US and their protection from leaving, while getting the Taliban to the negotiating table.

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