The Taliban may have reached the peak of their military achievements in the war in Afghanistan, one of the world's top authorities on the Taliban said.
And that position of relative strength might make them more amenable to talks, Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid said in an interview Monday with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"They can't go much further than where they are now," Rashid said. "They're across the country. They're having shadow governors and shadow government in all the major provinces, but they can't take the cities because of NATO firepower. They can't create a populist movement against the Americans. They tried and failed to do that."
"So in a way," Rashid added, "the Taliban are in a very strong position, which actually might make them more amenable for talks right now."
Editor's note: Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-born American writer, is the author of "Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes" and "The Widow's Husband."
"Re-integrating the Taliban."
Could that be a way to end the war in Afghanistan? Representatives of 70 nations met in London, England, this week to discuss that very idea. The plan was first floated several weeks ago by a key adviser to Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai, Masoom Stanekzai, and it has two parts: One, lure low-level Taliban fighters out of the insurgency with economic incentives and two, co-opt Taliban leaders by offering them a role in governing Afghanistan.
Part one of the Stanekzai program makes sense because it might split rank-and-file fighters away from instigators of the insurgency (I prefer the word "instigators" to "leaders.") Part two, however, will only end up delivering the government of Afghanistan to a new Talibanist group and betray the millions of urban modernist Afghans who have sided with the West over the last decade.
As talk emerged about a secret meeting of U.N. and Taliban officials, the battlefield lit up in Afghanistan, with a joint Afghan-international force and Afghan soldiers exchanging fire when both sides mistook the other for enemy combatants.
The violence flared as a widely circulated news report said that senior Taliban commanders met in Dubai earlier this month with Kai Eide, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan. The meeting reportedly dealt with the prospect of peace talks with the Afghan government.
The United Nations won't comment on the reports, and the Taliban issued a flat denial of what it called "futile and baseless rumors."
Reuters, sourcing a United Nations official, reports that Kai Eide, the U.N. representative for Afghanistan, met with members of the Taliban in Dubai earlier this month “to discuss the possibility of laying down their arms.”
“The official, speaking as leaders and ministers from 60 nations convened in London to discuss Afghanistan, told Reuters members of the Taliban's Quetta Shura had met U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide on January 8 in Dubai,” write Reuters’ David Brunnstrom and Myra MacDonald.
“The official said it was the first time such talks had taken place with members of the Taliban's top council, named after the Pakistani city of Quetta where Washington says it is based.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison, also quoting a U.N. official, reports: ”The official declined to say how high-level the Taliban officials were.
"He said the Afghan government was informed of the meeting, which took place earlier this month after the U.N. representative, Kai Eide, addressed the U.N. Security Council in New York on January 6.”
Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor reports that while discussions about aid were a part of the discussion at the London conference, “clear signals were also delivered that the U.S. and its NATO allies are crafting a departure strategy and determined to transfer security responsibility to Kabul within five years.”
“The back story and underlying meaning of the Jan. 28 conference appears to be a slow but inexorably developing script of transition, handoff, and departure. The conference communique and language of UN, NATO, US, and UK diplomats here was rife with “timelines” and “deadlines,” and laden with allusions of exit,” Marquand writes.
The Taliban issued an official statement on the London Conference on Afghanistan being held Thursday. "The war-mongering rulers under the leadership of Obama and Brown want to deceive the people of the world by holding the London conference to show that people still support them," the statement said in part. Read the statement
Leaders from more than 60 nations attended the one-day conference in London. In his speech at the start of the summit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pitched a plan for integrating Taliban fighters into mainstream Afghan society.
Update: 1:37 p.m. ET: At the conclusion of the one-day meeting, participants in the talks issued a communique expressing their approval of the plan that Afghan President Hamid Karzai introduced earlier in the day. Major international donors were asked to pledge money for the effort, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced after the meeting that Japan has offered $50 million toward the plan. She said the U.S. military in Afghanistan also had funds at its disposal to use to support the program.
London, England - Afghan President Hamid Karzai pitched a plan for integrating Taliban fighters into mainstream Afghan society Thursday, as world powers gathered to find ways to strengthen the Afghan government in the face of a persistent Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency.
"We must reach out to all our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of al Qaeda or other terrorist networks," Karzai told the participants at the London Conference on Afghanistan - a meeting of more than 60 countries and organizations looking for ways to steer the country away from the grasp of militants.
A central focus of the summit is a $500 million pay-for-peace proposal to bring Taliban fighters into the civilian fold if they promise to renounce violence. The money would create jobs and housing in an effort to moderate the Taliban fighters, helping them return to civilian life. Major international donors are expected to pledge money for the effort.
Karzai also said he would establish a national council for peace reconciliation and integration, followed by a "peace jirga" - a traditional gathering of Afghan tribal leaders - and said he hoped Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah would play a "prominent role."
Ministers from more than 50 governments and representative from an array of international organizations will gather in London Thursday for a conference regarding Afghanistan. One of the issues to be discussed will be negotiations with the Taliban.
“The pros and cons of dealing with the Taliban will loom large at the conference in London this week, where Mr. Karzai is scheduled to present his plan for lower-level reintegration,” report Mark Landler and Helene Cooper of the New York Times.
“While Mullah Omar remains off limits for the United States, the administration’s openness to reconciling with other Taliban leaders has grown since last year, officials say, because of its recognition that the war is not going to be won purely on the battlefield.”
One of the focuses of the London Conference on Afghanistan on Thursday will be how to reach a peace with at least some Taliban fighters.
Is it possible? Reader Richard writes, "The only way to effectively negotiate with the Taliban to treat them the way they treat others...mercilessly."
But other readers say it's feasible: "I believe the Afghani Taliban are a rare group that can be negotiated with," says Melanie. "Both sides should sit down, have a healthy meal with good tea and coffee, show respect in speech and actions, and the results will be a miracle."
What do you think? Is negotiating with the Taliban a good idea? Can a peace ever be met with the Taliban? Can lower level Taliban leaders be brought into the political and social fabric of Afghanistan?