Old Friends

Joel Bleifuss

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the Bush administration has held secret negotiations with the Taliban in an effort to bring them back into the Afghan government, according to a report in the Asia Times.A meeting between representatives of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the FBI, and Taliban leaders was held at Pakistan’s Samungli Air Force base near Quetta, according to a Pakistani jihad leader who arranged the meeting and spoke with Asia Times.This source said the United States set four demands the Taliban must meet before they would be let back into the government: Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader who remains at large, must step down; foreign fighters aiding the Taliban must be thrown out of the country; captive U.S. and allied soldiers must be released; and Afghans living abroad, particularly in the United States and England, must be allowed to run for office. Apparently the Taliban representatives rejected the first demand but were willing to discuss the other three.The Bush administration reached out to the Taliban because Afghanistan is becoming increasingly ungovernable. The U.S.-backed regime in Kabul controls only the capital. In the countryside, the guerrilla war, which is targeting U.S. and allied forces, is escalating.The Asia Times reports:According to people familiar with Afghan resistance movements, the one that has emerged over the past year and a half since the fall of the Taliban is about four times as strong as the movement that opposed Soviet invaders for nearly a decade starting in 1979. The key reason for this is that the previous Taliban government—which is dispersed almost intact in the country after capitulating to advancing Northern Alliance forces without a fight—is backed by the most powerful force in Afghanistan: clerics and religious students.The Bush administration is not only worried about getting caught in an Afghan quagmire, it is seeing red. A large number of former Afghan Communists are among the 2 million refugees who have returned home since the fall of the Taliban, many of whom you will recall in the ’80s got financial and military support from the United States for their war against the former Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.The Asia Times reports:At present, Kabul is divided into two main factions. The first is pro-U.S., represented by the U.S. and allied troops and those loyal to President Hamid Karzai. The second is pro-Russian and pro-Iranian, represented by Defense Minister General Qasim Fahim and his Northern Alliance forces. Although the camps are cooperating at present, they are silently building their support bases to make a grab for full power once the present interim administration runs its course, a process that is due to begin in October with a loya jirga (grand council).The Bush administration is concerned that the thousands of returning Afghan Communists, who have no love of the United States, could help tip the balance if favor of General Fahim. Enter the Taliban, who are our recent enemies but also old friends, thanks to their unparalleled record of squashing Communists and other secular dissidents.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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