US seeks open talks with Taliban

AFP Photo / Aref Karimi
After years of bloody conflict and war, American officials are hoping to open dialogues towards peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan before US troop reductions begin in July.

Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, has made it clear his goal is to reconcile divided fractions within Afghanistan and bring about a stable peace.

However, US officials are unsure who in the Taliban has the authority to conduct talks, let alone where to find them. Most Taliban leaders are completely unknown to US officials – even at the highest levels of intelligence. They operate behind the scenes and operate independent of current Afghan governance systems.

The US is therefore seeking out Mullah Mohammed Omar who is a known Taliban leader in hopes of getting in touch with those who can agree to terms, Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad indicated to AP.

According to Gul, based on conversations with Grossman, the US envoy is looking for “persons or groups who can provide us access to Mullah Omar, who can demonstrate their ability to approach Mullah Omar and get him on board, who can get through to Mullah Omar to open talks.”

Doing so will be hard given the lack of knowledge the US has about Taliban leaders and hierarchy.

In the past US forces have been tricked by individuals claiming to be Taliban leaders, only later to learn, after having paid them undisclosed amounts in US dollars, that they were fakes.

Since then the US has tried to be more careful. According to the AP US and NATO officials met recently with representatives of Hezb-e-Islami and the Haqqani network, both considered by NATO and US to be terrorist groups and combative enemies within Afghanistan.

In early May German weekly Der Speigel reported that German officials aided the US in contacting Tayyab Aga, a former secretary of Omar's. Aga was one of the last public voices of the Taliban associated with Omar, but that association publically dated back to December 2001 and the last time he was seen in public was November 21, 2001 when he conducted a Taliban press conference.

Aga was a public face for the Taliban, but by no means an insider. He was new to the Taliban government at the time. Since the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan Aga has not been seen, nor has he been suspected of being a party to Taliban militant activities. Basically, it remains unclear if Aga has any remaining ties to Omar or the Taliban in general.

Taliban fighters and supports are adamant that they will not negotiate, and Pakistani officials confirmed they feel it is unlikely Omar would be willing to meet for talks. Nevertheless, the US is insisting talks must take place.