Typically, peace negotiations are successful when one side has decided it cannot win on the battlefield. That was the case with insurgent groups as disparate as the IRA in Northern Ireland and the FMLN in El Salvador. Is it the case with the Taliban in Afghanistan? The administration would like us to think so because it has invested such high hopes in peace talks that would allow us to withdraw our troops as fast as possible. Unfortunately, there is plentiful evidence the Taliban are far from ready to give up their struggle to take over Afghanistan.
The latest data point is this report compiled by NATO forces based on interrogations of thousands of Taliban detainees. According to the AP’s summary, “The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014″; they “also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield.” Does this sound like a group ready to put aside its weapons? Hardly. So why engage in peace talks? Negotiations have many advantages from the Taliban’s standpoint–they could hasten America’s withdrawal and provide some breathing space for a movement battered by a U.S.-led offensive on its homeground in southern Afghanistan.
There is also the concrete prospect of the U.S. releasing senior Taliban prisoners to facilitate talks. This article has a rundown on some of the detainees who may be released as part of this process–it makes for dismaying reading because of all the atrocities they have committed. I am not opposed to prisoner releases per se, but they should only be undertaken when there is concrete evidence of goodwill on the other side. That was apparent in Iraq where Sunnis switched sides and began fighting against al-Qaeda in 2007. I am still waiting for any evidence of Pashtuns defecting en masse from the Taliban and being willing to take up arms against their former comrades. Until that happens, I suspect, peace negotiations will result in more war–not peace.