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Turkey – if they Host a Taliban Negotiation – will not be the Solution to Afghanistan

December 29, 2010

A most bizarre story came out of the Economic Cooperation Organization meetings held this past weekend in Istanbul. Everybody else was just fine taking pictures, checking out museums, getting stalked by 2o-something ad men (I C U ROZA), and the like. Hamid Karzai decided to go and say that Turkey should host a Taliban delegation to discuss an armistice with the Aghan government:

“The idea of Turkey serving as a place where gatherings can take place, where representation can be established in order to facilitate reconstruction and reintegration, has been discussed,” Karzai told a joint news conference with his counterparts from Turkey and Pakistan. “If Turkey is kind enough to provide such a venue we, the government of Afghanistan, will be happy and pleased to see this facilitation take place,”

First off, let’s all give a golf clap to the translators and interpreters. This was some reeeeal equivocal legalese that got spat, so nobody get too upset about the nouns and verbs and everything else that got lost in there.

Secondly, lets say that this is not going to happen the way you’re picturing it.

It’s one of those “everybody gets to feel good about progress” stories that don’t actually lead to progress. Gee, it sounds interesting, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. To break it down.

Turkey is not a neutral party to the Afghanistan conflict. Turkey is, lest we forget this fall’s drama when Turkey played coy with signing onto a NATO missile defense treaty. They signed the treaty. There are 1,815 Turkish military personnel in Afghanistan providing security in Kabul and in non-combat missions in the relatively serene Wardak Province. They also train Afghan servicemembers, presumably in the art of matching mascara to earrings:


Not being sexist. Honestly impressed with the lady on the R’s fashion

Turkey wants to see an end to the conflict as much as anyone, to be sure. But it is not neutral and has no reason not to act in their own best interests. Mullah Zaeef, who seems to be some sort of Taliban ambassador, said that he prefers the UAE to take a mediating role. The Emirates tend not to do international politics though. And even though Turkey’s foreign ministry does pride themselves on the “Zero Problems with Neighbors” thing, its shown to be not as effective in practice as in talk.

Turkey has no idea what Karzai is talking about:

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said he was not aware of such suggestions but stressed that Turkey “will do anything that would contribute to stability and security in Afghanistan,” according to Anatolia [Anadolu Wire Service].

So basically Gul is saying, “yeah, whatever Bro-zai. We’re ready to help you out, don’t get us wrong, but let’s make sure that we actually can (and stay in office while we’re at it).”

Let’s also take this time to mention that Gul is totally the kind of guy with goofy nicknames for everyone. Every picture of him makes him seem fun to be around:

It’s also not up to turkey to find a solution. It’s up to the U.S. This is probably stretching a bit too far away from Turkey-watching here, but I spend enough time over on to feel compelled to add my two cents. can barely conceal their glee when they note that it’s simply not looking all that great for ISAF:

…the recent negotiations suffered a serious setback after Karzai’s aides revealed that the Afghan president had been talking to a Taliban imposter who was brought to the sensitive government meetings by British diplomats.

The Taliban have publicly said they will not enter into dialogue with the Afghan government until all 152,000 US-led foreign troops based in the country leave.

Despite the presence of NATO forces, the violence and daily militant attacks have not subsided in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Zaeff, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Davutoglu, Haqqani, and whoever else can chat over innumerable cups of tea in innumerable pretty locales, but it’s not up to them. Any move towards reconciliation between the insurgency and the UN-recognizeed Afghan government will involve at least one of three things:

  1. The United States pulling out of a direct combat role in Afghanistan, taking the rest of ISAF with it.
  2. Karzai falling out of power or some other sort of organic (or not) redistribution of power rendering the current constitution void.
  3. A splintering of the insurgency where the non-Taliban elements, of which there are many, side with the government against the Taliban. This is the magical solution – the “Sunni Awakening” parallel that ISAF has been trying to get at for the past few years.

Joshua Foust, one of the most respected if ornery analysts on Afghanistan around. He has a book you should read. He has recently come about-face and signed off on a plea for negotiations with the insurgency.

But at this point, it is simply irresponsible not to begin the talking process even if the fighting must continue. As Myra MacDonald noted earlier this year, the conditions are right for both parties to begin the negotiations process, despite the severe risk. This entire process will involve a very difficult, and humbling, discussion of what is worth compromising on, and what is not—including the ability of U.S. forces to reserve a capability to strike any al Qaeda forces that may operate from uncontrolled areas of Afghanistan. It won’t be easy, by any stretch.

He qualifies that by saying, “It might not work, and I am honest enough to say so that I have serious doubts about the initiatives I have heard of.” But he’s down. I am not. Because Mr. Foust hasn’t given much of a good reason why the insurgency would be interested in negotiations.

Simply put, the Taliban could open up an office in Ankara or Istanbul and gain some legitimacy and act like it was 1999. But they still would have no reason to stop fighting the Karzai government, and they would still have little-to-no sway over the other insurgent groups.

Not only that, but I don’t see a viable way for the U.S. to sit down in SKURRY MUZZLIM Turkey with SKURRYER, MUZZLIMER Taliban, politically. Asking for a sane, rational, foreign policy from the U.S. right now is about as reasonable as asking for a similar one from Turkey. They both have to much internal politics to worry about.

It’s difficult to have negotiations without all the groups at the table.

To recap: Turkey would not be an ideal arbiter. Turkey was as surprised at this as anyone, and there is no real honest commitment to talks from either side. I don’t think this is one of those issues that can be solved by the middle (I also haven’t taken a single Political Science class since POLY101). For what it’s worth, I think that option (3) above is optimal, but I’m not convinced of ISAF’s capability to do it. And I’m not convinced of Turkey’s relevance to any of this outside of NATO.

[Side note: If you google-seach ‘Taliban Turkey’ you get this un-ironically fantastic article from the Sun. I fail to see how the Taliban did anything but par-roast the poultry.]


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