Daily Brief: Preliminary talks begin between Taliban, U.S. officials

Pieces of peace Former Taliban officials said Saturday that preliminary discussions between Taliban and U.S. officials about trust-building measures such as the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay have begun in Qatar (NYT). The Afghan government, which has previously expressed its displeasure at being left out of the peace talk developments, plans to meet with ...

AREF YAQUBI/AFP/Getty Images
AREF YAQUBI/AFP/Getty Images
AREF YAQUBI/AFP/Getty Images

Pieces of peace

Former Taliban officials said Saturday that preliminary discussions between Taliban and U.S. officials about trust-building measures such as the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay have begun in Qatar (NYT). The Afghan government, which has previously expressed its displeasure at being left out of the peace talk developments, plans to meet with Taliban leaders for talks in Saudi Arabia sometime before the Taliban officially sets up an office in Qatar, according to Afghan and Western officials (BBCAFP,TelWSJAFP). And Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will reportedly travel to Kabul on February 1 for talks with Afghan officials on the reconciliation process there (ReutersAFP). Afghanistan will reportedly request access to the Taliban's senior leadership -- supposedly based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta -- during Khar's visit (Reuters).

A senior Afghan official reports that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are seeking their own negotiations with the Taliban out of fear of being "sidelined" in the U.S-led reconciliation talks, as Pakistani officials say that Khar's plan to visit Afghanistan was spurred by a shared feeling of betrayal by the United States during the process of opening up a dialogue with the Taliban in Qatar (AFPET). On Friday, the Taliban kidnapped a member of Afghanistan's peace council while he was visiting the restive eastern Afghan province of Kunar to encourage the insurgents to join the peace process (ET).

Pieces of peace

Former Taliban officials said Saturday that preliminary discussions between Taliban and U.S. officials about trust-building measures such as the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay have begun in Qatar (NYT). The Afghan government, which has previously expressed its displeasure at being left out of the peace talk developments, plans to meet with Taliban leaders for talks in Saudi Arabia sometime before the Taliban officially sets up an office in Qatar, according to Afghan and Western officials (BBCAFP,TelWSJAFP). And Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will reportedly travel to Kabul on February 1 for talks with Afghan officials on the reconciliation process there (ReutersAFP). Afghanistan will reportedly request access to the Taliban’s senior leadership — supposedly based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta — during Khar’s visit (Reuters).

A senior Afghan official reports that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are seeking their own negotiations with the Taliban out of fear of being "sidelined" in the U.S-led reconciliation talks, as Pakistani officials say that Khar’s plan to visit Afghanistan was spurred by a shared feeling of betrayal by the United States during the process of opening up a dialogue with the Taliban in Qatar (AFPET). On Friday, the Taliban kidnapped a member of Afghanistan’s peace council while he was visiting the restive eastern Afghan province of Kunar to encourage the insurgents to join the peace process (ET).

The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov has a must-read about the Taliban’s efforts to remake itself into a more moderate organization, by supporting the establishment of girls’ schools and even pledging to teach English in their schools if they were to return to power in Afghanistan, though some analysts worry that this less hardline image is simply a ploy to gain more support from the local population (WSJ). Bonus read: Karl F. Inderfurth, "A Taliban ‘Rope-a-Dope’ Strategy?" (FP).

Dissent in the ranks

British Prime Minister David Cameron signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday outlining the planned cooperation between the two nations following the withdrawal of British forces at the end of 2014 (BBCCNN) Following their talks, Cameron said that the rate of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan should be the same for all NATO member countries and should depend on the security situation on the ground, a clear criticism of France’s announcement on Friday that it would be speeding up troop withdrawal to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2013 (AP,ReutersTel). The decision by French President Nicolas Sarkozy came after four French troops were shot dead by an Afghan service member, and has sparked worry amongst the other members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan that the killing of Western mentors by their Afghan Army partners could now be perceived by insurgents as a good strategy for forcing Western forces out of Afghanistan (LATAP).

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman had planned to use his recent trip to South Asia to build support for the U.S. peace effort in Afghanistan, but was forced to spend much of it placating Afghan officials who were livid that four U.S. congress members met with Afghan opposition leaders in Germany earlier this month (McClatchy). Meanwhile, the U.S. representative to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters in London that U.S. aid to Afghanistan will be lowered along with troop levels over the next couple of years (Tel).

And a jury in Canada on Sunday convicted three members of an Afghan family for murdering three teenaged sisters and one other woman because they "dishonored" the family by breaking their rules on clothing, dating, and using the internet (AP).

Free at last

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday ruled to allow former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani to travel abroad, signaling that perhaps the investigation into the so-called "Memogate" scandal is losing momentum (PostAFPAPDawn). However, the court has also extended by two months the judicial commission’s deadline for investigating the alleged memo, following Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz’s repeated refusal to travel to Pakistan to record a statement (ETDawn). Ijaz, the central witness in the Memogate case, petitioned the Supreme Court on Saturday for permission to record his statement abroad, a request that has previously been denied (DawnET).  

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani dismissed the possibility of a coup in Pakistan while speaking to a group of reporters at the Davos economic forum, saying that the country’s military leadership is committed to democracy (ETDawnReuters). Upon his return to Islamabad, Gilani denied that Pakistan’s spy chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who is retiring in March, would be granted an extension, and said "things are settling down" between the military and civilian leaders (ET).

A policeman was shot and killed by unidentified militants on motorcycles in Peshawar on Saturday, while at least three people were killed on Sunday in a suicide attack targeting the home of a tribal elder on the outskirts of Peshawar (ETDawnAFP). Also on Sunday, six militants and one pro-government militia fighter were killed during a clash in Kohat (ET). 

Insider account

In an interview with 60 Minutes aired on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that he believes someone in the Pakistani government had to have known where Osama bin Laden was hiding, though the Defense Department was quick to caveat that the interview was old and had been recorded at a time when U.S. officials were still unsure about the details of bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan (ETDawn). Panetta also expressed concern about the safety of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who provided the CIA with "very helpful" intelligence and who may face treason charges in Pakistan (Dawn,GuardianTelAFPAP). A Pakistani official on Monday clarified that the government has not yet decided on the charges against Dr. Afridi (CNN).

A Pakistani commission of investigators and lawyers plans to visit India next month to obtain more evidence for the prosecution of seven suspects allegedly involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people (AFP). Iran’s official news agency said on Saturday that the six Pakistanis shot and killed by Iranian border police on Thursday were drug smugglers who had crossed the border carrying 2,200 pounds of opium and hashish, and had opened fire on the Iranian security forces (AFP). And in Saudi Arabia, a Pakistani drug smuggler was beheaded after being detained as he tried to bring a large amount of heroin into the conservative kingdom (AFP).

#AwesomePakistaniThings

Twitter users all over the world made a virtual list of #AwesomePakistaniThings this weekend, causing the hashtag to trend worldwide for over an hour on Sunday (ET). Some of the top tweets ranged from "our leaders say we are not united but we showed the world unity through trending" to "We don’t need to spend money on fake tans."

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Jennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.

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