Jalal Ghazi - New America Media, News Analysis

Eye on Arab Media

Editor’s Note: While President-elect Barack Obama vows to pull back from Iraq and focus military action on Afghanistan, Taliban leader Mullah Omar is working hard to negotiate his way out of this situation. Jalal Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East," and writer of the column Eye on Arab Media for New America Media.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar released a statement warning that the increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have a direct relation to the level of violence there, and vowed to direct attacks at NATO forces. But, as an alternative, he offered a "seven point plan" to resolve the conflict.

According to Press TV, a 24-hour news channel based in Tehran, Mullah Omar delivered his plan through Saudi King Abdullah. The demands reflect a softening in the Taliban’s position, despite their increasing influence.

Previously, the Taliban insisted that they would not enter peace negotiation unless all NATO and U.S. forces leave the country. Now, the Taliban are willing to accept a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and suggested the introduction of Muslim peacekeeping forces to ensure a smooth transition, until the Afghans can reach a consensus government.

Syria’s first private channel, Addounia TV, reported that the Saudi King Abdullah informed President Bush and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai about Mullah Omar’s plan during the Interfaith Dialogue conference that the King sponsored, held at the United Nations’ New York headquarters in November.

The Damascus-based television channel said that the Saudi Arabian leader was asked to mediate the negotiations in the hope that he can utilize Saudi Arabia’s historically good relations with the Taliban to persuade the organization to enter into peace negotiations.

One of the key demands made by Mullah Omar was specifying a timetable for the withdrawal of NATO and U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Of course, this is contradictory to President-elect Barack Obama’s promise to send as many as 20,000 additional forces to Afghanistan.

Afghan Parliament member Shuria Barekzai urged the U.S. to reconsider this policy. She told Press TV: "I think that increasing the number of troops is not working for Afghanistan… as long as [the U.S.] is thinking of increasing the number of troops, they are thinking of keeping war in the region "

Another demand made by Mullah Omar is about sharing power with the current Afghan regime. Journalist and broadcaster Ahmed Qurishi told Press TV that the Taliban is willing to compromise in order to reach a consensus government, but they also demand a major change in the current political set up – which was based on the Bon Conference that was held in Italy seven years ago.

Qurishi told Press TV, "In the initial talks that were held last month between the Taliban and Afghan officials, the Taliban say that they have been asked from the onset to publicly say that they accept the Bon conference, which led to the current political set up in Afghanistan."

He continued: "The Taliban says the problem in the conference is that they were not invited to it and they were not consulted in writing the constitution."

Mullah Omar also demanded the consolidation of the Taliban fighters into the Afghan army and amnesty for them.

The fifth point is replacing NATO forces with peacekeeping forces from Muslim countries. Qurishi told Press TV that even if armies were brought from Muslim countries, there will still be problems. He explained, "For this to work, the armies can’t be brought from immediate Muslims countries, such as Pakistan, Iran or Turkey…They have to be brought from countries like Jordan, Algeria and Egypt."

Qurishi believed that the U.S. would agree to have a Muslim peacekeeping forces from allied Muslim countries, but that might pose a problem to one of the six neighboring countries which include China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

For example, Iran, might oppose the presence of forces from Pakistan, and vice versa, because they would view this as a threat to their influence in the region.

In fact, Iran already expressed deep resentment towards peace talks with the Taliban. Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was cited on Press TV saying, "The trend is such that we should anticipate that the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, will attend the White House’s parties along with Western officials," he added. "If you could reach a compromise with terrorists so easily, why did you stage such a massacre in the region?"

The return of the Taliban to Kabul in a power-sharing agreement means the return of Iran’s fiercest enemy after the former regime of Saddam Hussein. Of course, this is good news to the Saudi government, which has been trying to undermine Iranian influence in the region, which explains their intensive mediation efforts.

The success of these negotiations however is not guaranteed. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups told the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya Television, that the main obstacle in the negotiations is Al Qaeda. He anticipated several scenarios on how this obstacle can be overcome.

Rashwan believes that the Taliban may agree to give up a number of Al Qaeda leaders including Ayman Al Zawahiri, but not Osama Bin Laden – due to his marriage ties with the Taliban, and his status among Afghans in general.

Rashwan told Al Arabiya that there is an ongoing debate between two forces within the Taliban on whether to give up Al Zawahiri or not. He believes that the outcome depends on who has the final word. if the Taliban nationalists had their way, then Al Zawahiri will be handed over dead or arrested, but if the Taliban Islamists have their way, then the negotiations may fail specifically due to differences on how to deal with al Qaeda.

Another major obstacle for the success of the negotiations is the leader of the Islamic party, Kalb Al dean Hikmatyar, who has alleged his allegiance to both Bin Laden and the Taliban in fighting the occupation. His role in helping the Taliban expand its control in Afghanistan is crucial, which makes him an important part of any future negotiations, according to Rashwan.

President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to use additional force to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, it seems what is needed is less force and more talk. The U.S.’s willingness to talk with the Taliban is essential in isolating them from Al Qaeda.

Recently, the U.S. agreed to consider dropping the name of Mullah Omar from the terror list because of possible talks. On October 31, Press TV cited Patrick S. Moon, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, saying, "The U.S. intends to remove Mullah Omar from the black list in a bid to provide a suitable seedbed for holding contacts with the Taliban."

There is evidence that these gestures are paying off in the form of more moderate positions within the ranks of the Taliban. In fact, Rashwan believes that the recent bombing of Al Qaeda fighters in the Tribal areas may have been based on information provided by elements within the Taliban as a "good gesture" for what they view as a change in U.S.



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