Talking to the Taliban

Article excerpt

The New America Foundation (NAF) hosted an Oct. 15 discussion entitled "Talking to the Taliban" which focused on the possible contours of a peace settlement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Based on talks NAF research fellow Anitol Lieven had with the Taliban in July, he and Peter Bergen, NAF director of national security studies, described various scenarios that may play out.

Lieven, a former journalist and author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, met with his Afghan interlocutors, including former mujahideen and Taliban government figures who remain close to the movement, in a hotel in an unspecified Gulf country. None of the former Taliban leaders Lieven spoke with claimed to represent the Taliban as a party or a particular ethnicity or nationality, Lieven said.

Pakistan's military, he noted, argues that the Taliban cannot win an "outright military victory" in most of the Pashtun territory, which includes both Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Lieven, support for the Taliban among the Afghan population is approximately 30 percent-not enough for the Taliban to run the government, but possibly sufficient to ensure that they have a seat at the table.

The Taliban insist that any type of settlement "must come in a single package," Lieven said, with no concessions in advance and no surrendering of arms in any cease-fire. While a power-sharing agreement inevitably would include the Taliban, he added, the "actual business of government must be run by technocrats. …