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Cold Water From The Taliban

Waiting for peace: Afghan refugees at Eid al-Adha prayers in Peshawar in November
Waiting for peace: Afghan refugees at Eid al-Adha prayers in Peshawar in November
Outpost's recent piece on the idea of opening a diplomatic office for the Taliban in Turkey has inspired quite a bit of comment. (And see Muhammad's good follow-up here.) Now we've received some feedback from a source who boasts a long track record of good access to Taliban leaders. One of RFE/RL's reporters just caught up with Rahim Ullah Yousafzai, an executive editor at the Pakistan newspaper "The News International," and asked him about the story.

Yousafzai -- who is famous, among other things, for recording the last interview with Osama bin Laden before he went underground -- responded by saying that the Taliban don't really trust the Turks that much. His sources in the Taliban see Turkey primarily as a NATO member and a friend of the United States, and they resent the fact that Ankara has contributed troops to the multinational forces in Afghanistan. All of this, says Yousafzai, makes them suspect in Taliban eyes: "The Taliban said that if they want to have a diplomatic office, Afghanistan is the ideal place. Anybody who wants [the Taliban] to have a diplomatic office should choose a peaceful place in Afghanistan and [the Taliban] will open a diplomatic office there."

All of which rings true enough. And yet RFE/RL correspondent Majeed Babar notes that there's been a flurry of diplomatic activity around the Turkish presence in Pakistan recently. Just within the past few weeks the Turks inaugurated, with considerable fanfare, a new honorary consulate in the city of Peshawar, the city that lies at the epicenter of Pakistan's Pashtun region and which is also an established focal point for Afghan refugees and emigres. They've also named a new honorary consul, Salim Saif Ullah Khan, who happens to be the head of the foreign relations committee in the Pakistani Senate. (It's his house in Peshawar that's been designated as the new consulate.) Ullah was also a member of a Pakistani delegation that visited Kabul last week. Meanwhile, Turkish diplomats and journalists in Pakistan have been busily seeking out interlocutors known to have close ties with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, we continue to hear reports that U.S. representatives are already engaged in talks with someone in the Taliban -- with whom, exactly, and about what, remains a mystery.

And today a high-ranking group of diplomats and experts released a report in Washington calling for a full-fledged negotiating effort to end the war. The group, led by former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and ex-U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering, says that this is the best time to get peace talks going.

It's all very intriguing. But as this whole process moves forward, it's important that we don't forget the most important part of the equation: the Afghan people themselves. All the polls suggest that the overwhelming majority of Afghans put one goal above everything else, and that's security. They want peace and they want an end to bloodshed. One recent survey reports that while 83 percent of Afghans approve of the Karzai government's efforts to open negotiations, a whopping 55 percent of them said they have "no sympathy" with the Taliban-led insurgency -- a figure that's up quite sharply from previous years. No one should assume that Afghans, whatever their ethnic backgrounds, will welcome Taliban members into the government no matter what the circumstances. For the moment, though, no one seems to be in any hurry to let the Afghan people have their own say in the matter.

-- Christian Caryl