According to CNN, the Taliban wants to reach a peace agreement with the Afghan government and end the war that has raged since the 9/11 attacks. Taliban leaders say they have split from al-Qaeda, attempting to divorce their political aims from AQ’s war against all non-Muslims. Saudi Arabia hosts the conference, hoping to marginalize Osama bin Laden and his network even further:
Taliban leaders are holding Saudi-brokered talks with the Afghan government to end the country’s bloody conflict — and are severing their ties with al Qaeda, sources close to the historic discussions have told CNN.
The militia, which has been intensifying its attacks on the U.S.-led coalition that toppled it from power in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, has been involved four days of talks hosted by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, says the source.
The talks — the first of their kind aimed at resolving the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan — mark a significant move by the Saudi leadership to take a direct role in Afghanistan, hosting delegates who have until recently been their enemies. …
According to the source, fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar — high on the U.S. military’s most-wanted list — was not present, but his representatives were keen to stress the reclusive cleric is no longer allied to al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia has several points of interest in this conflict. They want the Taliban to break away from AQ, of course, but the Saudis also see the Afghan conflict as another opportunity for Iranian expansionism. The Iranians have armed the Taliban and want to fuel the conflict in order to pin down Western military forces that could otherwise focus on Iran. The Saudis also want to help stabilize Pakistan as a counterweight to the Iranians in the region.
After seven years, the Taliban and the Afghan government have come to consider the conflict futile. Even with considerable assistance from AQ, the Taliban simply can’t beat NATO. On the other hand, NATO can’t annihilate the Taliban either, nor can they effectively defeat them as long as the Taliban can run back across the Pakistani border — although we have become more successful at hitting them with missile attacks:
The Taliban are furious about the latest apparent U.S. missile strike in Pakistan, indicating a senior militant may be among two dozen people killed, officials and residents said Sunday. …
Two residents in the area targeted Friday said Taliban fighters warned people not to discuss the missile strike or inspect the rubble at the site. The residents requested anonymity for fear of Taliban retribution.
It may also indicate that the Taliban assumed that they could be safe from attack while negotiating with the Afghans and the Saudis. Until they agree to end their hostilities, though, NATO can continue to attack them whenever they present themselves as a target.
The futility of the fight means that the two sides have to reach some sort of political accommodation. Is that possible? Hamid Karzai has long said that the Taliban could return to Afghan political life once they renounced violence and agreed to participate in Afghan’s democratic processes. They have insisted on an end to terrorism, which means that the divorce from AQ is a necessary prerequisite to the talks. Without that, neither the Afghans nor the Saudis would even take an interest in talks.
What does that mean for the war? We could focus strictly on AQ instead of a broader war against the Taliban, which enjoys much broader popularity in Pakistan. If the Taliban really wants to separate itself from bin Laden and Zawahiri, they should demonstrate that by informing the Saudis of their location. That would be the quickest method of divorce. As for Mullah Omar, the US wants him in relation to the 9/11 attacks, and it would be difficult to see how we would let that claim go — or how Omar could credibly break with bin Laden personally without turning the two top AQ leaders over to NATO.