Hillary Clinton; HARD CHOICES: Book Analysis. Chapter 8. AFGHANISTAN: TO END A WAR. THE DIPLOMATIC APPROACH W/O PAKISTAN?
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Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan receive direct support from the “S” wing of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, according to a report published on Thursday.
LONDON TELEGRAPH 2009
HARD CHOICES: Chapter 8
Richard Holbrooke, before he died, endorsed a bottom up strategy where an effort would be made to reach low level insurgents to renounce their Taliban ties and support the Karzai government as they grew tired of increasing military pressure. He also was in favor of a top down approach in trying convince the diehard leadership of the Taliban their cause was futile and that they should endorse a political solution to their goals rather than a military. The top down approach was the more unlikely as the leadership consisted of fanatical, religious zealots. However Holbrooke felt it was worth trying.
There were requirements that low level or even top level Taliban would have to meet to be part of the peaceful political fabric of Afghanistan. One; they must lay down their arms: two; they had to reject Al Qaeda: three; they had to accept the Afghan constitution. Finally they must accept gender equality and human rights rejecting the prejudices of the past.
Karzai came on board with this policy of trying to engage the Taliban members high and low in negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the insurgency. To that end he appointed a High Peace Council led by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani. He was soon killed by a suicide bomber with explosives hidden in his turban. His son took his place on the council.
The ISI or the Pakistani intelligence service was against Karzai reaching a separate peace with the Taliban which may not include their interests. Karzai also faced opposition from his allies who were former members of the Northern Alliance and not ethnic Pashtuns as he was as well as the Taliban.
Despite the opposition the plans went forward and a man named Akbar Muhammad Mansoor who claimed to be a Mullah and Taliban commander appeared. However he turned out o be an imposter.
In 2010 Holbrook managed to get the Pakistanis and the Afghans to agree to a “transit trade agreement” which had been in limbo for years. This would strengthen trade between the two countries and help stabilize their economies. In July 2010 it was signed with Holbrooke and Hillary present for the signing ceremony by the Afghan and Pakistani Commerce Ministers. Also efforts were made to get the Pakistani leaders to view the Taliban insurgency as a joint responsibility and thus close the safe havens in Pakistan from which the Taliban leadership operated. Holbrooke was of the opinion that there never was going to be a solution to the insurgency without Pakistani support.
Hilary in an interview with Pakistani television journalists stated that she “saw no contradiction in trying to reconcile with those willing to talk and to fight those Taliban who still pursued military action.” (This seems to infer there was a split in the Taliban leadership on these issues.)
Hillary believed that there were persons in the Taliban leadership that wanted to talk. In the fall of 2009 she had received word from the Egyptians that a top aide to Mullah Omar had paid them a visit. Later in 2010 the same aide had approached a German diplomat and the diplomat said the aide was trying to find a way to make direct contact with the U.S. Hillary asked Holbrooke to investigate the possibilities of meeting with the aide whom Holbrooke called A-Rod and who was later identified in the Media as Syed Tayyah Agha. Hobrooke’s deputy Frank Ruggiero was appointed to meet with A-Rod in Munich. The bottom line for the U.S was that the Taliban had to lay down its arms, reject Al Qaeda and agree to equal rights for woman beyond that everything else was on the table. The Taliban top concern was the fate of its fighters and the release of prisoners from Guantanamo and other prisons. We were concerned about Bowie Bergdahl a U.S. Army sergeant being held by the Taliban.
Ruggiero returned to the U.S. to report to Holbrooke which was done apparently in the tap room at the airport. (A secure location?) On December 11, 2010 Holbooke met with Hillary and an aide, Jake Sullivan, in her office. Things were not rosy in Afghanistan but military progress had been made against the Taliban and security was better in Kabul and in key provinces. Aid efforts in support of educational and rebuilding the infrastructure were making progress.
Holbrooke was excited about the opportunities and had many ideas about the way forward when his face turned red and he had to be sent to the hospital where he was diagnosed with an aortic tear from which he died.
Frank Ruggiero took over Holbrooke’s work as acting Special Representative. He went to Kabul to report what had been discussed with the Taliban. A second meeting was arranged with A-Rod and he proved his bona fides by having the Taliban leadership release a statement containing provisions supplied by State. Marc Grossman a retired senior diplomat was selected to take over for Holbrooke
In Mid February 2011 Hillary gave a memorial speech at the Asia Society in New York, which Holbrooke had been chairman at one time, where she announced that beside the military surge and the civilian aid and development push a third diplomatic front had been opened with the Taliban for a political resolution to the insurgency. She announced that this had been her and Holbrooke’s vision from the beginning. She closed the speech calling for other nations in the region to join in the effort. The impact of her speech was to let all others know we were serious about reaching a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
In May 2011 Ruggiero met for a third time with A-Rod. It was five days after Bin Laden had been killed. We wanted the Taliban to renounce all ties with Al Qaeda and commit to a peace process. The Taliban wanted to open a political office in Qatar. Karzai was against this as it was tantamount to recognizing the Taliban as a political entity with interests in Afghanistan. The discussions with Agha were leaked by leaders in Kabul to the Washington Post and Der Spiegel. Pakistan was enraged because we held secret talks with the Taliban without telling them and also for the killing of Bin Laden on their soil. (This makes you wonder who in Kabul leaked the story and why? Hillary is not naming names. Could it have happened without Karzai’s consent?)
The talks continued in Doha and later the sought after office was left open for discussion as was the prisoner release. ( So far the Taliban has given very little.) Karzai who once approved of the talks reversed himself saying he was not kept informed by Ruggiero and Grossman and wanted his own representative at the talks. This was unacceptable to A-rod and the Taliban pulled out of the talks (This sounds like the Taliban all along wanted to divide us from Kabul and get thier prisoners released while giving up nothing and gaining diplomatic recognition.)
Hillary left office on February 1, 2013 Karzai stepped down as president in September 2014 succeeded by Ashraf Ghani. After Hillary left office a Taliban negotiating office was opened in Qatar.
Hillary is philosophical about this saying no negotiated peace is possible without contact with the Taliban. However the real hard choice here is to make Pakistan close the safe havens and cut all ties to the Taliban which was never attempted or done according to this narrative. So the alleged diplomatic approach was severely flawed.
It seems obvious that as long as the Taliban has safe havens in Pakistan and perhaps support from some elements in the Pakistani government they can go on forever. Holbrooke was right there can be no peace without Pakistan and that means Pakistan must snuff out their relations with the Taliban.
Meanwhile the stalemate continues and the bomb makers are still fully employed.