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Taliban to Karzai: No!

Yesterday Hamid Karzai offered Taliban leader Mullah Omar safe passage to Afghanistan for peace talks, a move that I considered a thrown gauntlet. Now Omar’s deputy, Mullah Brother — inhale the gloriousness of that name and let it waft through your nostrils — says no. And not just no, but hell no. Reuters reports:

“As long as foreign occupiers remain in Afghanistan, we aren’t ready for talks because they hold the power and talks won’t bear fruit … The problems in Afghanistan are because of them,” Brother said.

“We are safe in Afghanistan and we have no need for Hamid Karzai’s offer of safety,” he told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, adding that the Taliban jihad, or holy war, would go on.

That’s pretty definitive. But then, we figured a hard core of old-school Taliban would rejection Karzai’s overtures. Patrick Barry at Democracy Arsenal finds a cause for optimism:

In a bizarre way, I think this revelation actually strengthens rather than undercuts the case for exploring talks with reconcilable elements of the Taliban – if the argument for this plan is born out of a desire to probe and expose the fissures that are believed to exist within the Taliban movement, then a rejection of negotiation does about as much good as a tentative acceptance. There is clarity either way. At the very least, it sets up a position with which the various elements of the Taliban can either agree or disagree.

Dave Kilcullen appears to sign on to a version of this in an interview with George Packer: the old-school Taliban are probably irreconcilable, but their soft support from Afghan tribesman probably isn’t. Barry adds that Steve Coll, who knows quite a great deal about South Asia and insurgency, sees the Taliban’s insurgent coalition as ripe for fracture.

I’d like that to be the case. Karzai and the U.S. really ought to be able to, at the least, use Brother’s rejection to tell the Pashtuns of eastern Afghanistan, “You see? We’re going as far as we can to accommodate the Taliban, but they’re the ones who won’t let our country live in peace.” But part of me wonders whether I’m not allowing myself to see no for an answer because I want the answer to be yes. In any case, now would seem to be the time to discover whether other elements of the insurgency think the Taliban’s gone too far in rejecting Karzai’s offer.

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