The Cable

Gates: Taliban talks could begin this winter

SINGAPORE – Political reconciliation talks with the Taliban could begin as early as this winter, but only if the U.S. keeps up the military pressure and convinces the Taliban they are losing the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday "There is a generally accepted view that nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come ...

SINGAPORE – Political reconciliation talks with the Taliban could begin as early as this winter, but only if the U.S. keeps up the military pressure and convinces the Taliban they are losing the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday

"There is a generally accepted view that nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of a political settlement, but the reality is, in my view, that the prospect of a political settlement does not become real until the Taliban and the others… begin to conclude that they cannot win militarily," Gates said following his remarks here at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue.

After 15 months of ejecting the Taliban from their home territories in the regions of Helmand and Kandahar, the momentum is on the side of the Afghan government and the NATO coalition, but if there’s a military pullback, the prospects for negotiations decrease, he said.

"If we can sustain those successes, if we can further expand the security bubble, we have enough evidence that the Taliban are under pressure and that their capabilities are being degraded, that perhaps this winter the possibility of some kind of political talks or reconciliation might be substantive enough to offer some hope of progress," said Gates.

The Obama administration is devising a strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan referred to internally as "Plan 2014" that may call for U.S. troop reductions beginning this year. But Gates, who leaves office July 1, is warning against such a pullback.

"My own view is that the political opportunities will flow from military pressure. And only as long as the military pressure is kept on and there are further gains, will the prospects for a political solution improve," he said.

Gates reiterated the U.S. position that any reconciliation with the Taliban must include their agreement to sever ties with al Qaeda, agree to adhere to the Afghan constitution, and lay down their arms. But he acknowledged that the Taliban are here to stay.

"The Taliban are probably a part of the political fabric of afg at this point and can… potentially have a political role in the future of that country," said Gates.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Cable in a Saturday interview that he totally agreed with Gates’s assessment and would continue to press for heavy military pressure to continue.

"It’s very simple. What motivation would the Taliban have to talk if they think they’re winning. It clearly is a situation where if they think that they losing… then they will be willing to have serious talks," McCain said.

But McCain admitted that whatever progress has been made militarily in Afghanistan, problems remain with the effort in Pakistan, the relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and corruption in the Afghan government

"If they had good government, they probably wouldn’t have the insurgency in the first place," McCain said.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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