White House to hold "official talks" with Taliban

AP Photo/Kathy Gannon

There are some meetings taking place this weekend that seem destined to produce some awkward situations, even if they don’t result in much substantive progress. The U.S. State Department is set to hold talks with representatives of the Taliban, which seems a bit odd when you consider that we were just running drone strikes on their capital a few weeks ago. (I still haven’t gotten used to saying “their capital” when talking about the Taliban, but I suppose that’s just the way of the world now.) The two main items on the agenda are how the Taliban can contain extremist, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and ways to more easily extract foreign citizens from the country. What the Taliban gets out of this deal remains unknown. (Associated Press)

Senior Taliban officials and U.S. representatives are to hold talks Saturday and Sunday about containing extremist groups in Afghanistan and easing the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country, officials from both sides said.

It’s the first such meeting since U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence there, and the Taliban’s rise to power in the nation. The talks are to take place in Doha, the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in Doha, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the talks will also revisit the peace agreement the Taliban signed with Washington in 2020. The agreement had paved the way for the final U..S. withdrawal.

I suppose we can’t really fault the White House for agreeing to hold this meeting because we’re always supposed to explore diplomatic options before anything more “extreme,” but this certainly comes off as a rather bizarre turn of events. These are the same people we were fighting tooth and claw for twenty years and now, only a few short weeks after they ran us out of Kabul, we’re taking meetings with their representatives in an expensive resort in Doha.

The location of the meeting is the first issue to address. These talks will be with the Taliban’s “political office” in Qatar, featuring Suhail Shaheen. You’ll recall that this is the same office that conducted all of the negotiations with us leading up to the withdrawal. They continually made one promise after another, with the Taliban fighters back in Afghanistan failing to live up to most of them. They’re the ones who assured us that women and ethnic minorities from the opposition would have a role in the government and that women would be given more rights. They also agreed to expedite the withdrawal and make sure Americans and their Afghan helpers could get out of the country. Pretty much none of that happened.

The stated topics of discussion are also simply bizarre. We’re going to be talking to a terrorist group about how to quash other terror groups? I’ll admit that ISIS-K is still attacking Taliban fighters and civilians, so they are a legitimate target for Afghanistan’s new rulers. But the people we’re negotiating with have maintained close ties with al Qaeda all through the war, as have elements of the Pakistani government. As for talking about how to get the rest of our people out of the country, the Taliban is the reason we couldn’t get everyone out at once to begin with.

The final question I would have is what the United States is expected to bring to the table in return. The Taliban doesn’t make a habit of just giving away the farm for free. Despite ongoing congressional hearings, we still don’t know what sort of promises and deliveries were made to the Taliban as we negotiated the final withdrawal with them. Now we will no doubt be expected to deliver even more “concessions” to these thugs in exchange for more dubious promises. At some point, we’re going to have to have a reckoning of exactly what we gave up over the course of this process.

But for now, the Taliban has managed to work themselves into a position where they can call for high-level diplomatic meetings with our Department of State. This is really another major embarrassment on the world stage. We have truly lived to see interesting times.