Eide “greatly exaggerating” Taliban talks, former deputy says

Eide “greatly exaggerating” Taliban talks, former deputy says

Former U.N. representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide is greatly exaggerating his new claims that he had months of discussions with senior Taliban leaders, his former top deputy tells The Cable.

“He was not meeting with senior Taliban leaders,” said Peter Galbraith, who was Eide’s No. 2 and close friend until Eide fired him for raising questions about the U.N.’s lack of action over the massive election fraud perpetrated by President Hamid Karzai’s government last September, in an interview. “He’s greatly exaggerating.”

Galbraith, who was aware of the meetings but did not participate in them, said that they were with lower-level people who may or may not have had ties to the Taliban.

“The meetings were not particularly often and it was never clear where these people stood and what their connections were to the Taliban,” he said, suggesting they might have been disgruntled former Taliban associates.

Galbraith also rejected Eide’s contention that the recent arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders by the Pakistani military was the reason the talks broke down, as Eide claims.

“The discussions ended when he left UNAMA,” he said, referring to the removal of Eide by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in December. “The arrests have nothing to do with it.”

Galbraith is clearly no disinterested observer, but Special Representative Richard Holbrooke also said Friday that the recent arrests and the drive to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban have nothing to do with each other.

“We are extremely gratified that the Pakistani government has apprehended the No. 2 person in the Afghan Taliban … this is a good thing,” Holbrooke said. “It’s not related [to reconciliation] … We don’t see this as linked.”

The U.S. government was aware of Eide’s discussions. “He had mentioned this to us in a general way,” Holbrooke said, responding to questions posed by The Cable at a Friday press conference, adding that there was no U.S. involvement in the talks.

Holbrooke had called the press conference to discuss the next week’s landmark meetings between the United States and Pakistan in Washington, the first round of the new “strategic dialogue” between the two countries.

“It’s a major intensification of our partnership,” said Holbrooke. “This is not a photo op … this is an intense, serious dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan.”

The Pakistani delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and will also include Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, incoming Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Zardari’s advisor Wazir Ali, Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, and many others.

The U.S. contingent will be led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, NSC Senior Director David Lipton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, and many others.

The trilateral dialogue between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will still go on and another meeting could come later this year, according to Holbrooke. Holbrooke is headed back to the region next week, stopping off in Brussels before going on to Afghanistan. He was going to stop in Pakistan but that became unnecessary because the Pakistanis are coming to Washington, he said.

The question of how to disperse billions of dollars of new aid to Pakistan, a point of contention between Holbrooke and Senate leaders, was discussed  during a high-level meeting at the White House Friday morning, Holbrooke said, where “almost every senior person in the United States foreign policy community was in the room.”