Before we get to Mullah Omar and Hillary Clinton, let’s offer a few prayers for the thirteen Americans killed in action by one of Omar’s suicide-bombing terrorists in Kabul today:
At least 13 U.S. service members were killed in Kabul on Saturday when a suicide bomber struck a vehicle in a NATO military convoy, a U.S. military official said.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force confirmed 13 deaths within its force, but did not identify their nationalities.
The U.S. official emphasized details are continuing to unfold. A heavily damaged vehicle is believed to be an armored bus that was carrying U.S. troops in the convoy.
The attack caused a “number” of NATO and local Afghan casualties, ISAF said in a statement. Four Afghans, including two students, were also killed, said Hasmat Stanikzai, spokesman for Kabul’s police chief.
As CNN notes, it’s the largest single-day loss in Afghanistan since August, when 38 people were killed in an attack on a helicopter, including 17 Navy SEALs from Team Six, the same team that took part in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Their families can use our support in prayers and thoughts today.
Now, what was it that Hillary Clinton said about talking with Mullah Omar?
In an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mrs Clinton said the United States would continue to “fight, talk and build” inAfghanistan and Pakistan to “test whether these organisations have any willingness to negotiate in good faith”.
She said there was “evidence going both ways” on its intentions, citing the Haqqani Network’s response to a Pakistan-brokered meeting in August between US officials and Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of the group’s top leader Jalaluddin Haqqani. …
Mrs Clinton said the Haqqani meeting not a “negotiation” and that no subsequent meetings have followed it, but stressed any future negotiations with the Taliban would need the Quetta Shura’s blessing.
“The negotiations that would be part of any Afghan-led peace process would have to include the Quetta Shura and would have to include some recognition by the Quetta Shura which, based on everything we know, is still led by Mullah Omar, that they wish to participate in such a process … We are pursuing every thread of any kind of interest expressed,” she said.
This is a significant shift from even a few months ago, the Telegraph reports. The US has held indirect talks with lower-level Taliban leadership and Pashtun tribal leadership in hopes of marginalizing and eventually isolating Omar and his top lieutenants, efforts that started during the Bush administration. The US position has been that Omar was an accessory to 9/11, either before the fact or, in hiding AQ and bin Laden, after the fact. As such, the US has until now made clear that we would not tolerate Omar remaining free in any resolution of the war in Afghanistan.
What changed? Clinton apparently got an earful from Pakistan last week, where General Kiyani — seen as a US-friendly resource and a key reason why we can continue drone strikes in Pakistan — told Clinton that there won’t be any peace without the Quetta Shura, and that means Mullah Omar. We have tried for ten years to split the Pashtuns from the Quetta Shura and Omar, and it’s simply not working.
Afghanistan has been in civil war since before 9/11. We removed the Taliban by uniting its opposing warlords to expel Omar and to get a large number of Pashtuns out of power (although Hamid Karzai is a Pashtun himself). There is no reconciliation possible without Pashtun participation. If the Pashtuns won’t change their leadership and remain loyal to the Quetta Shura, then we will either have to fight in Afghanistan indefinitely, or we will have to start dealing with the Pashtuns on their terms.
Even with that said, it’s not clear that the Pashtuns will talk even if we do start dealing with their current Taliban leadership. They just assassinated the head of the Afghanistan High Peace Council, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, with a suicide bomber that brought him — I kid you not — a supposed “message of peace”. Karzai told the US and Pakistan that there would be no further talks without Pakistan acting as a guarantor, which means that Pakistan will end up controlling the peace process from now on and not the US. Omar will get a better deal with the Pakistanis in charge, but so far the Taliban have never claimed to want a deal that didn’t include them holding total power in Afghanistan.
Those are the choices we have left in front of us. None of them are terribly palatable, but with Pakistan controlling most of the lines of communication into Afghanistan, we’re eventually going to have to choose from among them.
Update: The Navy SEALs who got killed in August were part of the same Team Six that ran the OBL mission, but not necessarily the same team members on that mission. I’ve corrected the text above.