The story today is not about the Taliban offering to open up peace talks with the US-led Afghan coalition by opening an office in Qatar. Talks in which neither Pakistan, nor – crucially – the minimally democratic government of Afghanistan have a seat at the table. That’s basically about a prisoner exchange, a handful of senior Taliban leaders exchanged for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, captured by the Taliban in June 2009. Which is something we used to call “negotiating with terrorists”, back when we made such fine distinctions.
No, the headlines today are about peace talks within Pakistan itself, between various branches of the Pakistani Taliban, at the behest of their Afghan brethren.
Here’s the WaPo headline: Militant Groups in Pakistan Form United Front
At the urging of the Afghan Taliban, four major Pakistani insurgent factions have joined the Afghan guerrilla group known as the Haqqani network in a council aimed at resolving infighting and ending militant violence against civilians in Pakistan.
The council’s formation was announced in a leaflet distributed in recent days in North Waziristan, a remote Pakistani tribal area that is the base of the Haqqani network, a cross-border group that NATO forces in next-door Afghanistan call their most lethal foe. In the pamphlet, the Shura-i-Muraqba said it had formed in consultation with the Afghan Taliban and called on “all holy warriors” to avoid criminal activities or face punishment under Islamic law.
Criminal activities include warring on other jihadis and attacks against Pakistani civilians.
But here’s how Reuters characterizes the same affair: Pakistan Taliban commanders “at each other’s throats”
Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militants have held a series of meetings aimed at containing what could soon be open warfare between the two most powerful Pakistani Taliban leaders, militant sources have said.
Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and his deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman, were at each other’s throats, the sources said.
“You will soon hear that one of them has eliminated the other, though hectic efforts are going on by other commanders and common friends to resolve differences between the two,” one TTP commander said.
Any division within the TTP could hinder the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda’s struggle in Afghanistan against the United States and its allies, making it more difficult to recruit young fighters and disrupting safe havens in Pakistan used by the Afghan militants.
So in one framing, the Pakistani Taliban are uniting against NATO, and leaving the Pakistani government – an all but open enemy, now – alone. In another, they are about to tear each other apart. The implication being that the prospect of open warfare between our inimical adversaries teeters in the balance between their united hostility against us. A strategic opportunity, in other words.
At which moment we sue for peace with the Afghan Taliban.
I’m not much into conspiracy theories, never attribute to malice, etc. But if we were actually trying to throw this thing and not get caught doing it, it wouldn’t – couldn’t – look much different than this.