The Obama administration is continuing to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, even as the Taliban openly rejects the goals of those talks.
"With respect to talking to the Taliban, the reality is we never have the luxury of negotiating for peace with our friends," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Wednesday. "If you're sitting across a table discussing a peaceful resolution to a conflict, you are sitting across from people who, by definition, you don't agree with, and who you may previously have been across a battlefield from."
The problem is that the Taliban has shown no indication that it wants to achieve any of the goals Secretary Clinton has outlined.
According to the New York Times, the administration’s effort at peace has been supposedly buoyed by the Taliban’s decision to open an office in a Qatar.
Now, despite doubts in the administration, misgivings on Capitol Hill and the erratic objections of the most important partner in any potential peace deal — President Hamid Karzai — the administration’s best hope for ending the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture…
The Qatar office would be the first of what the officials described as a series of reciprocal steps that could include the release of at least five senior Taliban officials held at the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The Times continues:
Nearly a year ago, Mrs. Clinton first signaled the opening for talks by recasting the administration’s longstanding preconditions: that the insurgents lay down their arms, accept the Afghan Constitution and separate from Al Qaeda. Instead, she described them as “necessary outcomes.”
The Taliban has responded in a statement released online. And how does the Taliban’s statement measure up to the three “necessary outcomes” outlined by Secretary Clinton?
Does the Taliban say its commanders are willing to lay down their arms and abide by the Afghan Constitution? No.
Instead, the Taliban says that opening its political office “does not mean a surrender from Jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration but rather the Islamic Emirate is utilizing its political wing alongside its military presence and Jihad in order to realize the national and Islamic aspirations of the nation and its martyrs.”
Therefore, the Taliban makes it clear it has no intention of laying down arms or accepting the Afghan Constitution – two of the three objectives Clinton says the administration hopes to achieve. And the Taliban’s “political wing” is simply part of its overall strategy for achieving power inside Afghanistan.
What about the third goal – the Taliban “separat[ing] from Al Qaeda”? This has been a fantasy held by some in Washington for years, even though there is no evidence it can really be achieved.
The Taliban does not explicitly mention al Qaeda in its latest statement. But there is a fundamental irony here. The Obama administration is considering releasing five senior Taliban leaders from Guantanamo as part of its peace effort. All five have longstanding ties to al Qaeda. In fact, there is every indication that the five Taliban commanders in question long ago decided to endorse al Qaeda’s mission in this world. (Four of the five are profiled here and the fifth is profiled here.)
Why should anyone believe that releasing the Taliban commanders from Gitmo would further the administration’s goal of separating the Taliban from al Qaeda?
The Times reports: “The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May added momentum to the peace efforts, underscoring the increasingly limited ties between Al Qaeda and the remaining Taliban.”
How, exactly, did slaying Osama bin Laden underscore the “limited ties” between al Qaeda and the Taliban? There is no evidence this is really true, and it is based on an erroneous assumption: that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was housed almost entirely in bin Laden’s lair. The relationship did not die with bin Laden, however. The Taliban and al Qaeda have been fighting side-by-side since the mid-1990s. Importantly, key Taliban commanders such as Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani long ago adopted al Qaeda’s global jihadist ideology. So have other Taliban commanders.
At this point, peace talks with the Taliban are more fantasy than reality.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.