US mulls talks with Taliban to stem Afghan unrest

October 28th, 2008 - 9:02 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanNew York, Oct 28 (IANS) In a major policy shift unthinkable a few months ago, the US is considering talks with elements within the Taliban to reverse a downward spiral in the security situation in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban - while excluding top leaders - has become necessary as both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been destabilised by a recent wave of violence.

The idea is mooted in a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan, according to senior Bush administration officials, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The recommendation calls for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the US.

The idea is supported by General David Petraeus, who takes charge this week as the commander of the US Central Command. Earlier this month he publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements. He used a similar approach in Iraq, where enlisting Sunni tribes in the fight against Al Qaeda helped reduce the violence.

The White House recommendations are, however, not expected until after the next administration takes over, the Journal wrote.

The proposal seems to cohere with the stance of both presidential candidates. Democratic nominee Barack Obama believes talks with the Taliban should be considered and has advocated shifting more tropps to Afghanistan from Iraq.

His Republican rival, John McCain, too supports reaching out to tribal leaders to separate “the reconcilable elements of the insurgency from the irreconcilable elements of the insurgency”, as Randy Scheunemann, the campaign’s top foreign-policy adviser, said Monday.

The US policy review is taking place against the background of talks between Taliban sympathisers and Afghan officials. Mediated by Saudi officials, the negotiations in recent weeks in Saudi Arabia have mainly involved former Taliban members, but included some current Taliban members and others close to the group’s leadership.

US officials clarify that they would only play a supporting role in any future talks with the Taliban. The prospective talks would aim to extend the Kabul government’s authority across the country and persuading some Taliban figures to stop attacking US and Afghan targets.

The Taliban leadership, however, may not have any incentive to negotiate because they view themselves as winning the conflict, the Journal said.

The possibility of talks with the Taliban comes amid wholesale restructuring of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US has backed the Pakistani move to arm thousands of anti-Taliban fighters along the country’s porous border on the west. US officials are considering creating similar local militias in Afghanistan as well, the Journal said.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US Special Operations Command have stepped up a campaign of missile strikes against militant targets inside Pakistan. Deploying at least 12,000 more US troops in Afghanistan next year is also being considered, the Journal wrote.

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