U.S. Afghan Envoy Expects Taliban to Continue Attacks Alongside Talks

By Patrick Goodenough | June 28, 2013 | 4:13 AM EDT

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins speaks to reporters in New Delhi on Thursday, June 27, 2013. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The administration’s point man for Afghanistan said Thursday he does not expect the Taliban to end violence before reconciliation talks begin, since the militant group will want to make it look like U.S. forces are withdrawing from the country under pressure.

On a visit to India, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins, who is slated to head up the U.S. side if talks with the Taliban take place, reiterated the administration’s long-stated stance that any agreement will require the Taliban ending violence, respecting the Afghan constitution and cutting ties with al-Qaeda.

But, asked by journalists in New Delhi about ongoing Taliban attacks, Dobbins said he did not expect a ceasefire before talks get underway.

“Frankly, I anticipate that Taliban will continue to try to negotiate from a position of strength,” Dobbins said.

“The Taliban will want to continue to put pressure on, to make it look like the United States is leaving as a result of that pressure rather than a result of its success.”

Last week the Taliban, with U.S. approval, opened an office in Qatar and the State Department announced that U.S.-Taliban talks were expected to begin within days, ahead of separate talks between the Taliban and Afghan authorities via the High Peace Council.

The dialogue never got underway after Afghan President Hamid Karzai slammed the Taliban’s use of its flag and signs proclaiming the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan,” but Dobbins has been in the region this week to discuss the matter with officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem speaks during a press conference at the official opening of the group's office in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)

Amid those discussions, the Taliban launched a brazen suicide attack Tuesday near the presidential palace in Karzai. Further Taliban violence elsewhere in the country included a roadside bombing east of Kabul Thursday in which five civilians were killed, while on its website the Taliban also claimed to have killed at least five “puppets” – its derogatory term for Afghan military personnel – in a gunfight in eastern Afghanistan.

The ongoing violence, even as efforts are underway to get talks started in Qatar, has drawn fresh attention onto the three “red lines” which U.S. officials have been citing since 2009 for any reconciliation with Afghan militants – renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaeda and respecting the constitution.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki last week characterized them as ultimate objectives, rather than prerequisites for entering talks.

But when Secretary of State John Kerry was asked during a visit to India earlier this week whether those red lines were now being shifted, his response – and specifically his use of the word “conditions” – seemed closer to the view that the Taliban is, in fact, expected to meet the norms before talks are held.

“This is an Afghan-led process, and it is an Afghan-led process that will only negotiate under certain conditions,” he said. “Thus far, those conditions have not yet been met, so there is no negotiation at this point.”

“If the conditions are met, then there is a negotiation that will take place not with the United States, but with the High Peace Council of Afghanistan,” Kerry continued.

“And one of the requirements, or many of the requirements are that the constitution of Afghanistan be respected, that they not affiliate or associate themselves – in fact, disassociate themselves from al-Qaeda and from violence, and that the rights of women and minority rights will be respected going forward.”

The perceived contradiction between when Kerry said in New Delhi on Monday, and what Dobbins said in New Delhi four days later, had some Indians scratching their heads.

Under the headline “Flip-flop on Kerry assurance on Taliban,” a writer in the Kolkota Telegraph said Dobbins’ comments had brought new “confusion” after Kerry’s earlier ones.

Previous administration statements on the “red lines” for the Taliban include:

--Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Jul. 2009 speech):

“We understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support al-Qaeda or believe in the extremist policies the Taliban pursued while in power. And today we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces al-Qaeda, lays down their arms and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan constitution.”

--State Department (Jun. 2010 press briefing):

“We are supporting a policy. It’s an Afghan-led policy in terms of both testing to see through the jirga and other actions whether there are leaders of various insurgent groups that are willing to come forward and participate in the daily affairs of Afghanistan, but in doing so, under the criteria that have been laid out in the strategy – supporting the Afghan constitution, renouncing violence, and having nothing to do with al-Qaeda.”

--Then-U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (Jun. 2010 press roundtable):

“We’re very clear in terms of the conditions which anybody would want to come back to rejoin their community in Afghanistan with dignity, with respect, with the proper protections and safeguards, and those conditions as I said earlier – renouncing the use of violence, break your ties with al-Qaida and international terrorism, respect for the constitution.”

--The late special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke (Jul. 2010 briefing):

“If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in from the cold, there has to be a place for them.”

--State Department (Oct. 2010 press briefing):

“We’ve established our criteria in terms of what we would see as acceptable for those who might seek reconciliation: renouncing violence, ending ties to al-Qaeda, and supporting the Afghan constitution and the rights that are inherent in the Afghan constitution, relative to all segments of Afghan society, including women. Anyone who adopts those criteria, in our view, can play a role in the future of Afghanistan.”

--Clinton (Feb. 2011 speech):

“Over the past two years, we have laid out our unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: They must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaeda; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan. Those are necessary outcomes of any negotiation. This is the price for reaching a political resolution and bringing an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks. If former militants are willing to meet these red lines, they would then be able to participate in the political life of the country under their constitution.”

--Clinton (Oct. 2011 congressional testimony):

“We have been very clear about the necessary outcomes of any negotiation. Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al-Qaeda, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities. If insurgents cannot or will not meet those redlines, they will face continued and unrelenting assault.”

--State Department (Jan. 2012 press briefing):

“Are there individual fighters of strategic significance who are prepared to come off the battlefield and join the political process within the framework that the Afghans have discussed and that we have supported, namely that they are now ready to denounce violence, to cut ties with al-Qaida, and to work within the Afghan constitution?”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow