Former Afghanistan Advisor Not Optimistic About Taliban Talks

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Marco Werman: For a different take now we turn to Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She served as special advisor to two commanders of international troops in Afghanistan. Sarah, what do you make of Miss Syed's faith that talks with the Taliban will indeed happen and that she's hopeful?

Sarah Chayes: Well, I think Afghans are desperate for hope, and I think that in general there is a widespread desire for people to interact verbally rather than violently. I think that the views that she's expressing about this particular juncture are just a little bit naÃ? ¯ve, for a couple of reasons. One is that the push that has been underway for quite some time to negotiate exclusively with the Taliban is, I think, quite counterproductive for a couple of reasons.
One is that the Taliban, or anyone who would sit down at a negotiating table, don't really represent an indigenous Afghan movement. That's not to say that there aren't lots of Afghans who have joined the Taliban, who have participated in violent actions in Afghanistan, but I mean the people who would be allowed to sit down at a negotiating table are under significant control by the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. And this is really clear because this is not the first time that there have been direct contacts between Taliban members and U.S. officials, by a longshot. And in fact I remember back in 2010 there were some contacts that were being made sort of independently and within two weeks everyone that was being talked to got arrested by the ISI. In other words, the ISI want to control this process.

Werman: Sarah, right now isn't the Taliban the group to be reckoned with? I mean, don't you need to start somewhere?

Chayes: It's not independent. It's not independent. So what I'm saying is, yes, they need to be part of a negotiated process, but not just them. What about all the other Afghan constituencies that also have serious and legitimate grievances against the Karzai government but have not chosen to take up arms?

Werman: Can you imagine a situation where the U.S. and the Taliban do sit down in Qatar for some preliminary talks and then a wider group of people comes into it?

Chayes: I don't understand why it should just be those two groups. Why not involve, as for example the French did in an experimental way at the end of last year and early this year, with having all of the stakeholders around the table. I think that's a much better way of ensuring that a peace process is comprehensive enough and has enough buy-in from all the different constituencies to actually stick.
And secondly, as I said, there's, all these other constituencies have not taken up arms. So why are they, in a sense, being punished for having been peaceful, number one. And number two, if the ISI is in such control of particularly the leadership of the Taliban, in effect what this means is we are rewarding Pakistan for having chosen to use violent insurgency as an instrument of public policy. What message does that send to other asymmetric powers like Iran or North Korea in terms of how you get your way with America?

Werman: So you're assuming, Sarah, that Hamed Karzai will not be a part of these talks with the Taliban?

Chayes: I just don't know. You obviously can't have talks where the Afghan government isn't a party to the talks. What I don't think is useful is to give the Afghan government the gavel. I really think that these need to be internationally shepherded talks at which, at the table, are Taliban, the Karzai government, and other important Afghan constituencies. I don't think Pakistan needs to have a seat at this table either directly or indirectly.

Werman: Well, Hasina Syed as well as Steven Bittle with whom we spoke with earlier, foresee a legalized Taliban with seats in the Parliament in Kabul. So what do you think that's gonna mean, especially for Afghan women.

Chayes: I think we need to understand that political structures don't function in Afghanistan the way we're familiar with them. And so, for me seats in the Parliament don't matter as much as governorships, key ministries, and things like that, which really have the power to create conditions on the ground. And so, the question really will be, what are the contours of the deal under which the Taliban would take a role in government? And it's not just about Afghan women, it's also about essentially a Pakistani overlordship of significant portions of the east and south of the country. And, so obviously the conditions for Afghan women will be the same as they are now or worse. Believe me, I lived in Kandahar for the last decade and there was not enormous change for women, even in the last decade.
But the question also is does this then become plausibly deniable safe haven, not just for terrorists who might be interested in attacking the United States, but also groups that are kind of instrumentalized by the Pakistani military against India. And then you have two nuclear armed neighbors in a very unpredictable relationship to each other.

Werman: Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thank you.

Chayes: Thank you Marco.