Afghanistan: Karzai offers Taliban peace talks

On September 29, US-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and give the Taliban — classified as "terrorists" by the US and its NATO allies — posts in his government.

"If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, 'President, we want a department in this or in that ministry or we want a position as deputy minister ... and we don't want to fight any more'. If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it because I want conflicts and fighting to end in Afghanistan", Karzai said.

Commenting on Karzai's offer, Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay told reporters in Halifax, Canada, that the offer was conditional on the Taliban "renouncing violence" and accepting the NATO occupation of Afghanistan. "There must be a renouncing of the violence, there must be an acceptance that NATO forces are not going to leave the country, that these preconditions that the Taliban have laid out in the past will not be part of the occasion", MacKay said.

The US-led NATO military alliance has 35,500 troops in Afghanistan, half of them from the US. Britain has the second largest contingent with 6700 troops, while Germany has 3424, Canada 2500, Italy 2160, the Netherlands 1700, Poland 1200 and France 1100. While not part of NATO, Australia has almost 900 troops in Afghanistan.

The US also has 8000 troops in Afghanistan operating separately from NATO forces.

The extreme Sunni Muslim fundamentalist Taliban, which was organised, trained and armed with Washington's blessing in 1994-95 by the Pakistan's military intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence, ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until the country was invaded in late 2001 by the US and its imperialist allies.

Karzai's regime is dependent for its survival not only on the presence of the US-led occupation forces, but on the support of local warlords, many of whom are also drug barons. Since the ousting of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world's largest supplier of heroin. A UN report released in August said land under opium poppy cultivation rose to 193,000 hectares in 2007, up from 165,000 in 2006.

Reuters reported on September 30 that it had been told by Taliban spokesperson Qari Mohammad Yousuf that talks with Karzai were out of the question as long as foreign troops remained in the country. Yousef said: "Karzai government is a dummy government. It has no authority so why should we waste our time and effort? Until American and NATO troops are out of Afghanistan, talks with the Karzai government are not possible."

Yousuf also told Reuters: "On the one hand, America has put our leader's name on a wanted persons list and is calling us terrorists; and on the other hand, Karzai is talking about peace talks. It's a joke."

The day before Karzai made his offer, the Washington Post reported that "the Taliban are enjoying a military resurgence in Afghanistan and are now staging attacks just outside the capital, according to Western diplomats, private security analysts, and aid workers.

"Of particular concern, private security and intelligence analysts said, is the new reach of the Taliban to the provinces ringing Kabul, headquarters for thousands of international security troops ...

"Analyses by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a project funded by the European Commission to advise private aid groups about security conditions across the country, found 'a significant monthly escalation in conflict' in the first half of the year. Attacks by armed opposition groups increased from 139 in January to 405 in July, according to the project's director, Nic Lee."

"Every month there's a 20-25% increase in offensive activity", Lee said, adding that attacks in June and July were 80-90% higher than in the same period last year, showing a general escalation in the conflict, rather than seasonal fluctuations.

"Attacks have spread across the entire southeast border area, with a rapid escalation in the east, and in the last four months in the centre" around Kabul as well, Lee said.

In an article headlined "On the brink", the September 29 Melbourne Age reported that, "Six years after US-led forces swept Afghanistan's Taliban leaders from power, the 'good war' that promised to free Afghanistan from decades of conflict, repression and terrorism has turned bad ... 'Afghanistan is in danger of capsizing in a perfect storm of insurgency, terrorism, narcotics and warlords', according to US experts Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, writing in Orbis, a US foreign policy journal. 'The US is losing the war in Afghanistan one Pashtun village at a time', they write, 'bursting into schoolyards full of children with guns bristling, kicking in village doors, searching women, speeding down city streets, and putting out cross-cultural gibberish in totally ineffective InfoOps (information operations) and PsyOps (psychological operations) campaigns — all of which are anathema to the Afghans.'

"Without a major change in strategy, more troops and more development aid, they predict, 'the US will lose this war'.

"Johnson and Mason, respected researchers who teach at US military colleges, are not isolated voices.

"Retired US Lieutenant-General David Barno, who commanded 20,000 troops in Afghanistan from 2003-2005, fears popular Afghan support for the coalition is slipping away.

"Writing in the Military Review, a US Army journal, he warns that the coalition depends on a finite 'bag of capital' — the tolerance of the local people. This, he says, 'appears to be diminishing'."