Arrests of Top Taliban Figures Ended Talks, Ex-Envoy Sayshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/20/world/asia/20afghan.html?ref=world
KABUL, Afghanistan — The former top United Nations official in Afghanistan said that recent arrests of high-ranking Taliban figures by Pakistan have severed important secret communications between the Taliban and the West, possibly delaying peace negotiations and making them more difficult.
Kai Eide, the former special representative for the United Nations secretary general, told the BBC in an interview broadcast Friday that, for the past year, the United Nations had been quietly involved in early discussions with Taliban figures in Dubai. He said those talks were upended by the arrests of senior Afghan Taliban figures, including the group’s second in command.
There is a growing consensus among officials from the United Nations and Western European countries that ending the war in Afghanistan will require internationally supported negotiations with the Taliban.
But Mr. Eide, who stepped down earlier this month, said the effect of the arrests “was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary at that particular juncture.”
“The Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played,” he said in the interview. “They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today.”
Western European countries are pushing hard for a negotiated settlement, essentially pulling in a different direction from the United States, which is ramping up military pressure on insurgents with campaigns across southern Afghanistan planned for much of the summer. The American approach seeks to weaken the Taliban movement militarily so they are in a weakened position when they come to the bargaining table.
In contrast to a more military-focused approach, the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, laid out a road map to negotiations with the Taliban earlier this month in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said the United Nations could serve as neutral ground on which parties who distrusted each other could meet.
Mr. Miliband did not entirely eschew military efforts, but he seemed to suggest focusing instead on setting conditions for negotiation.
Although he ruled out discussions with those committed to Al Qaeda’s brand of militancy, Mr. Miliband strongly endorsed an effort to reach out to almost everyone else, and without any preconditions.
“The idea of political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult,” he said. “We have no more right to betray our own values than those of the Afghan people who pray that the Taliban never come back. But dialogue is not appeasement, and political space is not the same as veto power or domination.”
Still, he recognized that an ultimate settlement could only be achieved with those willing to renounce violence and embrace the Afghan Constitution.
“The Afghans must own, lead and drive such political engagement,” he said. “It will be a slow, gradual process. But the insurgents will want to see international support. International engagement, for example under the auspices of the U.N., may ultimately be required.”
Western diplomats in Kabul said the involvement of Afghanistan’s neighbors will be also be critical, especially the roles played by Pakistan, Iran and India, which have enormous clout here. The role of the United States is crucial as well because it may be the only country with the power to push such a deal forward.
Afghan government figures have already reached out to the Taliban, which governed Afghanistan from 1996 until the American-led invasion in 2001, according to Mr. Eide and others.
Mr. Eide said that communications with the Taliban had broken off after the February arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 commander, in Karachi by the Pakistanis.
Since then, at least four other senior Taliban figures have been reported to have been detained by the Pakistanis, including two shadow governors. The Taliban had appointed shadow governors in all but one province, who directed Taliban policy and activities such as local courts.
The initial communications between the Taliban and the United Nations were “talks about talks,” Mr. Eide told the BBC in the interview from Norway. He said it would take months to build trust with the Taliban.
Other interlocutors have been working as well, including Saudi Arabia, which has hosted some high-level negotiations, according to senior figures in President Hamid Karzai’s government.