The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it was moving forward with its attempt to negotiate with the Taliban, which has opened a long-awaited political office in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban released a statement trumpeting its new political front. Within hours, Afghan president Hamid Karzai blasted the U.S. government, saying the talks will only advance “foreigners' strategies and goals” and are “completely in contradiction to the assurance that was given to Afghanistan by the United States of America.”
This does not bode well for an initiative that should be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned,” to quote one administration official who spoke with reporters.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has withheld from the American public a key source for evaluating the reasonableness of its effort: Osama bin Laden’s files.
One of the administration’s principal goals is to convince the Taliban that it must permanently separate itself from al Qaeda. But what we know from published reports suggests that the bin Laden’s archive shows tight collusion between al Qaeda and the Taliban, making the administration’s stated goal a fool’s errand.
On April 29, 2012, the Guardian (UK) reported that bin Laden’s files “show a close working relationship between top al Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar, the overall commander of the Taliban, including frequent discussions of joint operations against Nato forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and targets in Pakistan.”
The Guardian continued by reporting that the “communications show a three-way conversation between Bin Laden, his then deputy Ayman Zawahiri and Omar.” One “Washington-based source familiar with the documents” told the newspaper that bin Laden’s files indicate a “very considerable degree of ideological convergence” between al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Four days later, on May 3, 2012, just 17 documents out of bin Laden’s enormous cache were published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). The documents cited by the Guardian were not among them. The 17 documents were not selected by the CTC’s analysts, but instead by Obama administration officials.
Why didn’t the administration release the documents showing al Qaeda’s “close working relationship” with the Taliban? We do not know for certain, but the Guardian’s account provides a clue.
The Guardian concluded: “The news [discovered in bin Laden’s files] will undermine hopes of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, where the key debate among analysts and policymakers is whether the Taliban – seen by many as following an Afghan nationalist agenda – might once again offer a safe haven to al-Qaida or like-minded militants, or whether they can be persuaded to renounce terrorism.”
Bin Laden’s documents should be released to the American public, even if they complicate the administration’s attempt to talk the Taliban out of its well-established relationship with al Qaeda.
Unsurprisingly, the Taliban has thus far refused to disavow al Qaeda. In its statement announcing its new political office, Mullah Omar’s organization says that it “does not wish to harm other countries from its soil and neither will it allow others [to] use Afghan soil to pose a threat to the security of other nations!”
This is an empty promise. The Taliban’s soil was repeatedly used to launch international terrorist attacks prior to September 11, 2001. Even if Mullah Omar initially objected to 9/11 and other such attacks, he did not or could not stop them. And al Qaeda continues to plot attacks from areas of northern Pakistan that are controlled by the Haqqani Network, which is part of the Taliban coalition. Moreover, al Qaeda already has established safe havens inside Afghanistan today – namely, in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces.
Bin Laden’s archive contains many details about al Qaeda’s relationships with the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other players inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. While exceptions can be made for operationally sensitive documents, there is no good reason the American people shouldn’t be able to see most of bin Laden’s files.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.