Inching Toward Talks with the Taliban

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Next door to Pakistan the war in Afghanistan grind on. The US is trying to jump start negotiations with the Taliban in an effort to start winding down the conflict. Pakistan could help given its reported links with the Taliban, that's what US Special Envoy, Marc Grossman, wanted to discuss with officials in Islamabad. It's his job to bring all the factions to the table, but as we noted earlier, Pakistan refused Grossman's visit today. Still, the effort continues. The American Ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, says if the talks happen, Afghan officials will have to be at the forefront.

Ryan Crocker: Any process we're gonna be involved in has to be one that is Afghan lead and aims at a reconciliation between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government.

Werman: Right, I keep hearing American officials say that Afghans have to lead this process in any negotiations with the Taliban. What is the evidence that Afghans are pushing on that front?

Crocker: Well, they're very engaged, doing a lot of work, have a clear vision of where they want to see this go. So they are ready to lead, there's no question in my mind. Marc Grossman will be visiting here, will be meeting with President Karzai and members of his team, basically to learn from them and him how they want to proceed with respect to any useful role we might play. This is their initiative. They'll make decisions. They'll decide how they run it and they'll decide who they want in the room.

Werman: Now, Pakistan has actually said today that because of consternation over drone strikes that that visit with Marc Grossman is going to have to be delayed. Does that concern you?

Crocker: Well, clearly we've gone through a rough patch with Pakistan over the last couple of months, and they've got a whole range of internal problems of their own. I think these are nonetheless very important relationships between us and Pakistan, between us and Afghanistan, and between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, clearly, there are problems. I think equally clearly the interests of all three countries are of such significance that we've gotta find a way to talk about them.

Werman: Could negotiations with the Taliban happen without Pakistan?

Crocker: Well, we'll just have to see how it unfolds. Clearly, Pakistan is in a position to make the process easier or to make it more difficult, but I don't think they can completely block it.

Werman: I mean the Pakistani military has been so closely tied to the Taliban and insurgents, it's hard to imagine them letting the Taliban negotiate with complete independence.

Crocker: The Taliban of course are our adversary as they are the adversary of the Afghan government, but they are also Afghans. And you know, after 10 years in the wilderness I would expect that more than a few of them would like to try something different and see if they can come to terms.

Werman: What have you seen on the ground lately that's given you the most encouragement that things may be headed in the right direction in Afghanistan?

Crocker: Well, I think there are a lot of encouraging signs. One of them, a lot of people would consider a negative, horrendous traffic in Kabul. They may exceed Cairo for world record traffic jams. The level of violence in Kabul is very, very low. When you're out and about it's a normal city; stores are open, people are on the streets, you know, there are art galleries, one feels very comfortable driving around again, as long as you can fight your way through the traffic.

Werman: Do you think Kabul would still have that vibrant quality if the US were to pull out today?

Crocker: Well, bare in mind the city of Kabul transitioned to Afghan security control in the summer. It's Afghan security forces exclusively that are keeping the peace in the city and doing so effectively. When there have been incidents it has been those same Afghan forces that have resolved them. You know, Kabul is already totally in Afghan hands for security purposed.

Werman: Ambassador Crocker, explain something to me and my listeners, I mean wasn't the goal in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda and its allies, that would be the Taliban for one; and keeping the Taliban from ever returning to power? And by negotiating with the enemy isn't the US admitting that the goal can't be met?

Crocker: Actually, I would see it in completely contrary terms, Marco. Insurgencies normally end through some kind of political settlement. The terms the Afghan government has set for reconciliation, which we fully support, set the bar quite high. There has to be a complete break by the Taliban with al-Qaeda, a complete renunciation and sensation of violence, and respect by the Taliban for the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women and minorities. So this is hardly conceding the field to the enemy. It's going to require an adversary to make some pretty tough choices whether they want to be part of the new Afghan society on Afghan government terms or not.

Werman: Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, speaking with us from Kabul. Thank you very much indeed, Ambassador.

Crocker: Thank you.