Taliban touts strength, declines talks

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The Taliban has said it's not interested in opening negotiations with NATO forces. The prospect of talks had been raised by senior U.S. and British forces. But in a statement, the Taliban said it's winning the war, so there was no reason for them to negotiate. The World's Jason Margolis has more.

KATY CLARK: I'm Katy Clark. This is The World. Taliban leaders in Afghanistan aren't interested in negotiations. That's what a Taliban spokesman told the BBC through an intermediary. The prospect of talks with the Taliban had been raised recently by US and British officials. But in a written statement, the intermediary said Taliban leaders believe they are winning the war in Afghanistan so there's no reason for them to negotiate now. The comments underscore a perception that the Taliban are succeeding when it comes to frustrating US and NATO forces. The World's Jason Margolis has more on what the Taliban strategy may be. He begins with an unconventional analogy.

JASON MARGOLIS: War is not a game. People die. But there is strategy to war. And when considering the Taliban's strategy, it might be useful to think of this. Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith had a strategy to win games when his team held the lead. It was called "The Four Corners." As the name implies, four players would stake out four corners of the court, with one player in the center. Then they'd pass the ball amongst each other. The idea wasn't to score. The idea was to run out the clock and prevent the other team from scoring. In a sense, that's what Taliban leaders are doing. Dan Markey with the Council on Foreign Relations puts it this way.

DAN MARKEY: Conceivably they could outlast the international presence and reassert themselves in Afghanistan. And I think that it's working.

MARGOLIS: In the basketball strategy, the idea was simple. We win by not letting you beat us. Markey says that, too, is the Taliban's playbook.

MARKEY: They don't have the capacity to win firefights, extended firefights with international forces. So it's much more a matter of being disruptive, rather than holding territory for an extended period of time. Their goal is to demonstrate that the international community cannot enforce security and that the Afghan government is both corrupt, predatory and also weak and can't protect it's own citizens.

MARGOLIS: Here's where the basketball analogy gets a little weak. The North Carolina basketball team could only stall if they had the lead. In Afghanistan, the Taliban don't necessarily have the lead. But they don't need to be winning, says Teresita Schaffer with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

TERESITA SCHAFFER: In a sense, the insurgents win by not losing. And the government loses by not winning. So that in an ambiguous situation, if the insurgents retain the ability to set off bombs, more or less where they feel like it, then they are in a position to intimidate the population.

MARGOLIS: Given that, when Taliban leaders say they won't negotiate with NATO, it doesn't come as a surprise to many, like former deputy UN special representative in Afghanistan Peter Galbraith.

PETER GALBRAITH: And they have no incentive to negotiate on the terms that are being proposed by the West and the Karzai government, which is that they give up the insurgency and accept the Afghanistan constitution. If they were prepared to do that they wouldn't have engaged in the insurgency in the first place.

MARGOLIS: But the question of will the Taliban leadership negotiate or won't they somewhat misses the mark, says former British commander in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp.

RICHARD KEMP: The core leadership of the Taliban have made absolutely plain, all along, they will not talk to us and I think that will remain the case until they're defeated, if that ever happens, but certainly the core leadership won't. I think other elements of the Taliban, potentially, and let's not forget the Taliban is a patchwork of different people, different groups with different motivations and varying degrees of commitment to violent insurgency, and I think there are elements that can be turned around with a lot of, a lot of work.

MARGOLIS: Teresita Schaffer agrees. You have to look beyond the Taliban leadership.

SCHAFFER: Are there people in the Taliban who are in some kind of political discussions in spite of the fact that they're saying they're not negotiating? And I think the answer to that is almost certainly yes.

MARGOLIS: And Schaffer says if that's the case, this opens up a second question.

SCHAFFER: Which is, who on the side of the non-insurgents has the ability to close the deal?

MARGOLIS: Would it be the US, NATO, the Afghan government, or even the Pakistanis? That's a question that President Obama and General David Petraeus may be trying to answer right now. For the World, I'm Jason Margolis.