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Taliban Suspends Talks with U.S.

6:00 PM, Mar 15, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Citing security concerns, Rogin did not report the name of the westerner who may be exchanged for the Taliban five. But the Telegraph (UK) reported in January that the Taliban was set to turn over Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who has been held captive since 2009.

Bergdahl is held by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a Haqqani Network commander who openly proclaims his alliance with al Qaeda. In 2009, Sangeen was interviewed by al Qaeda’s media arm, As Sahab. When asked about relations between the Taliban and al Qaeda, Sangeen explained:

All praise is for Allah, Al-Qaeda and Taliban all are Muslims and we are united by the brotherhood of Islam. We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al- Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam. Sheikh Usama has pledged allegiance to Amir Al-Mumineen (Mulla Muhammad Umar) and has reassured his leadership again and again.

Sangeen continued:

There is no difference between us, for we are united by Islam and the Sharia governs us. Just as the infidels are one people, so are the Muslims, and they will never succeed in disuniting the Mujahideen, saying that there is Al- Qaeda and Taliban, and that Al-Qaeda are terrorists and extremists. They use many such words, but by the Grace of Allah, it will not affect our brotherly relationship. Now they are also trying to disunite the Taliban, saying that there are two wings, one extremist and another moderate. However, the truth is that we are all one and are united by Islam.

To the extent that the Obama administration still wants to continue with the nascent peace talks, the proposed prisoner exchange demonstrates a key flaw.

The Obama administration wants the Taliban to renounce al Qaeda. Bergdahl’s captor, however, says this is not happening any time soon. Meanwhile, the five senior Taliban leaders who would be transferred have substantive and longstanding ties to al Qaeda. That is, the prisoner swap demonstrates just how problematic the administration’s goal for the talks really is.

Before the Taliban announced that it had suspended its dialog with the U.S., the Taliban five agreed to be transferred to Qatar. But this is hardly surprising. And this angle to the story represents still another problem with the Obama administration’s attempt at dialog with the Taliban.

The choice of Qatar is especially problematic, as it is a hotbed for terrorist fundraising.

A leaked State Department cable authored on December 30, 2009, nearly one year into President Obama’s tenure, includes a summary of the problem. The cable reads (emphasis added):       

Qatar has adopted a largely passive approach to cooperating with the U.S. against terrorist financing. Qatar's overall level of CT cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region. Al-Qaida, the Taliban, UN-1267 listed LeT, and other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale. Although Qatar's security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.

The same cable repeatedly “emphasize[s] the need to prevent the Taliban from using the cover of reconciliation talks to raise funds.” This is from the same State Department that has been leading the effort at peace talks with the Taliban.

It is no wonder that top Senate Democrats have been skeptical of the proposed transfer to Qatar. Senator Feinstein told Rogin that she opposes it. And Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed similar concerns during a hearing last month.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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