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Asia

Talks with the Taliban remain halting

As international troops gear up to leave Afghanistan, political negotiations are underway with parts of the Taliban to ensure long-lasting peace and stability. However, they are moving at a very slow pace.

The United States have long realized that the war in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means alone. "Political dialogue is the surest path to long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan", a State Department spokesperson told DW.

The Obama Administration has been making efforts to enter negotiations with the Taliban for almost two years. The talks were suspended by the Taliban in March, however, after the US failed to release five high-ranking Taliban prisoners held in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Richard Barrett

Richard Barrett is the coordinator of the United Nations al Qaeda / Taliban Monitoring Team

Sketchy details

Although informal talks continue, the details rarely come to light. From time to time, a US official might announce that another proposal for the release of the five Taliban prisoners has been made, or the Taliban will say they have sent a team to Qatar to finalize an agenda of negotiations.

Yet, the demands made by both sides are clear. The US wants the Taliban to stop fighting, to respect the Afghan constitution and to renounce the terrorist network al Qaeda.

For their part, the Taliban want all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, all Taliban prisoners to be released and the legitimacy of their movement to be recognized by the international community.

"I don't think that any of [the issues] are particularly contentious because they are all open to interpretation," Richard Barrett, the coordinator of the United Nations al Qaeda / Taliban Monitoring Team, told DW.

He added that he did not believe the fact some troops were expected to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 was problematic either.

"I don't think that it need necessarily be a showstopper for the more pragmatic Taliban because they'll reckon that having some international presence, some sort of guarantors and observers of what's happening in the country could perhaps help them move forward towards an equitable share of government or whatever they might want," he said.

Moreover, he added that the "pragmatists" might accept a constitution so long as it was one that had been negotiated between all parties.

Divided Taliban

However, there is a problem in the sense that the Taliban are not united. Certain elements completely reject any deal with the US others see it merely as a tactical move.

When Agha Jan Motasim, a former finance minister, spoke out in favour of a political solution and against al Qaeda he was shot at in the Pakistani city of Karachi two years ago, just barely surviving.

Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Kabul, told DW that there was huge gap between the generations of Taliban.

"Those who are now in leadership positions at the field level don't have much memory of the Soviet times," she explained. "They don't share the same kinds of bond as their predecessors who fought in Kandahar against the Soviets and against warlords who were abusive."

French and German troops

International troops are due to withdraw in 2014

The average age of Taliban commanders is thought to have dropped in the past decade from 35 to 23.

A non-starter

Ryan Crocker - the US Ambassador in Afghanistan until July - recently said that the best approach would be to "peel off" a significant number of Taliban leaders willing to reconcile with the Afghan government.

However, Barrett warns against relying on this "traditional negotiating technique to split and weaken the enemy."

"If you want to secure peace in the country it would be better to have a united Taliban movement with proper authority over all the aspects and supporters," he said.

Generally Mullah Omar, who has been in hiding since 2001, is considered the overriding leader of the Taliban but it is difficult to judge how much respect he commands.

Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar has been in hiding since 2001

"I think that there are some real concerns on all sides that even if Mullah Omar decides tomorrow to lay down his arms, fighting will continue," said Rondeaux.

She also underlined the fact that the release of the five Guantanamo prisoners remained an important sticking point that would not be resolved before the US presidential election in November.

"This is simply a non-starter in an election year," she said. "There is no way that any president, be it a Republican or Democrat, would expose himself to the kind of public ridicule and debate that such a move would open up."

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