‘Taliban’ and ‘peace mission’ — the words sure don’t fit
very well together. But they’re the words that you’ll see in tomorrow’s papers, given that the Taliban have today "http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/world/asia/taliban-to-open-qatar-office-in-step-toward-peace-talks.html?_r=1&hp">revealed their intention to open a peace mission in Qatar. The idea is
that foreign diplomats can stop by, share a cup of tea and some Ferrero Rocher, and talk about ending the insurgency in Afghanistan.
The news ought to treated with caution for now. After all, the Taliban haven’t given a date for when their Qatar office will be open, and they’re making noises about prisoners being released from
Guantanamo Bay in return. But it’s a still a significant moment, whatever happens. For the first time in public, the Taliban appear to be broaching the possibility of peace talks. What has for
years been resisted and refuted now seems to be an open and active goal.
The idea of talking to the Taliban may seem, in itself, like a admission of defeat by the West. It certainly wasn’t the mission plan in 2001, and it could yet have horrible consequences. But there
are plenty of policymakers who now see it as the best, and only, way to proceed. Not only might it spare Afghanistan from decades of internal conflict — the thinking goes — but, played
right, it could also limit Pakistan’s influence in the country after 2015, and therefore the Taliban’s too.
Why so? As Ahmed Rashid explained in the Spectator in 2010, the head of
Pakistan’s army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been supporting the Taliban for years — and in the hope of brokering any eventual peace talks, and steering a heavily-Taliban, pro-Pakistan
government into power in Kabul. If the West splays itself across any talks in Qatar, then that outcome may yet be avoided. If not, then it may just be conceding to Kayani’s dangerous agenda.