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Afghans React to Prospect of Taliban Negotiations

Slowly but surely, momentum is building for peace talks with the Taliban. Following on yesterday’s item, The Los Angeles Times runs an interesting tour d’horizon of Afghan sentiment about the prospect of negotiations, and generally comes down on the side of hopefulness.

As an aide to Karzai tells The LAT’s Laura King:

“The most important consideration is the feelings of the Afghan people,” said Humayun Hamidzada, a senior aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “And the fact is that they are sick and tired of war.”

The piece — probably sensibly — doesn’t try to fill in the details of what will be negotiated, since, after all, the negotiators have barely even met and it’s unclear what’s actually on the table for discussion. But one former Taliban commander splashes cold water on the prospect of a Taliban break with Al Qaeda, something that would be the most significant strategic fact to emerge from the negotiations:

But Waheed Muzhda, a senior Taliban official when the movement was in power who is now a researcher in Kabul, said Westerners would be disappointed if they sought to drive a wedge between the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

“You cannot separate the two,” he said. “The Taliban didn’t give up Osama bin Laden, under the greatest possible pressure. Why would they break from Al Qaeda now?”

One answer could be because the Afghan insurgency can be cleaved apart through methodical applications of peaceful inducement, population security and military pressure — leaving at least some Taliban factions to calculate that it’s better to enjoy the blessings of power in Kabul than to be hunted from Kandahar to Quetta.

But the point is a rather salient one: if the Taliban won’t break with Al Qaeda, then there’s not really anything to negotiate. It would be irresponsible to broker the return to power of an Al Qaeda-aligned political movement.

Let’s see what Mullah Omar’s next move is.

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