December 26, 2007

Talking With The Taliban?

Just two weeks after Gordon Brown promised that his government would not negotiate with the Taliban, their intelligence services started talks about legitimizing them as a militia in Afghanistan. The Telegraph reports that MI-6 and SIS opened negotiations with Taliban envoys despite Brown's denial. The Afghan government has also expelled two diplomats for meeting with the Taliban:

Agents from MI6 entered secret talks with Taliban leaders despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain would not negotiate with terrorists, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Officers from the Secret Intelligence Service staged discussions, known as "jirgas", with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer.

An intelligence source said: "The SIS officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide 'mentoring' for the Taliban." ...

The delicate balance in Afghanistan was underlined as it emerged that two diplomats had been ordered by the Kabul government to leave the country after allegations that they had met Taliban insurgents without the administration's knowledge.

Brown appears to have bungled badly. He refused to admit to the negotiations two weeks ago, apparently cognizant of American attitudes towards talking with al-Qaeda allies. Labour had expected him to explain the circumstances of the meeting and got surprised by his complete denial. Now that contradictory reports have surfaced, Brown looks not just like a weakling but also a liar.

The meetings themselves, properly explained, may not have held all that much political risk. MI-6 set up meetings with former Taliban insurgents who had renounced violence, at least temporarily. The meetings occurred with the knowledge and support of the Karzai government, which wants a political resolution for the conflict while forcing al-Qaeda out. It may not have been a comfortable admission, but not an inexplicable one -- until Brown lied about it.

The two diplomats come from the EU and the UN. Little is known about their meetings, and the two deny they have done anything improper. Both have worked in Afghanistan since the Soviet occupation, and therefore likely have extensive contacts with the Taliban. The pair call the accusations "banal and preposterous", a bit of a contradiction in terms.

Brown, meanwhile, has had a very bad start to his term as Prime Minister. This will not help.


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