Negotiations between the Taliban and the United States broke down after President Hamiz Karzai balked at the terms of a reconciliation proposal.
The Washington Post reports that the deal would have seen the Taliban renouncing Al Qaeda and terrorism and the United States transferring five prisoners currently held at a naval facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The prisoners would have been held under house arrest in Qatar where the Taliban plan to set up an office.
According to officials who spoke with the newspaper, the Afghan president had failed to build political support at home among powerful Afghan players, particularly ethnic Tajiks and other forces in the northern part of the country who resent the southeastern Pasthun fanatics that constitute the heart of the insurgency.
The news comes less than a week after Vice President Joe Biden sparked controversy with his assertion that the Taliban is “not per se” America’s enemy. “We are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that’s good enough,” he told Newsweek.
There are risks to negotiating a ceasefire however. With international forces preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 — “come hell or high water,” as the vice president put it earlier this year — the Taliban might determine that their best option is to negotiate an end to the deadly American counterinsurgency tactics and renege on a reconciliation agreement later.
If there is a reconciliation, it would likely see the Taliban return to provincial power in the south of Afghanistan where, over time, a virtually autonomous Pashtunistan could emerge that will destabilize Pakistan, home to 44 million Pashtun, unless Islamabad restores its special relationship with the Taliban — which would also enable is to reclaim “strategic depth” there against India.
The United States would probably not prevent such a fundamentalist Islamic polity from emerging. Once American troops pull out, Washington is unlikely to deploy military force again to maintain the balance of power that has previously been attained.
India, which could be a critical American ally across the Indian Ocean region in containing China’s rise, remains baffled that the United States would pick impoverished and fragmented Pakistan as a partner over New Delhi. The different ethnicities and tribes once united in the Northern Alliance seem quite prepared to deal with India but they are in the minority versus roughly fourteen million Pashtun who are estimated to constitute some 40 percent of the population.
Karzai, two months ago, entered into a strategic partnership with India. Balaji Chandramohan observed at the time that whereas Pakistan’s influence in Kabul is eroding, “there is a chance for India to jump into the vacuum that is Afghanistan and facilitate a comprehensive reconstruction effort, one that is supported by the neighboring states that have most at stake in the country, including Iran, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.”
None of these countries wants to see the Taliban return to power but they have not been prepared yet to commit more than minimal financial support to Hamid Karzai’s civilian government, let alone