Afghanistan Peace Talks 'NATO Wants a Quick Political Deal'

Thomas Ruttig, 53, co-director of the non-profit research organization Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul, speaks to SPIEGEL about the difficulty of attempts to reach a political deal with the Taliban and the alleged start of secret talks between the government in Kabul and the insurgents.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (middle) prays with members of Afghanistan's peace council.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (middle) prays with members of Afghanistan's peace council.

SPIEGEL: Representatives of the so-called Quetta Shura (the Pakistan-based group of top Taliban leaders) and the Haqqani network, which are still on the United Nation's blacklist, were allegedly flown in NATO airplanes earlier this month to talks with the Afghan government. Is there hope for a political solution in Kabul?

Ruttig: I would say this piece of news is just another part of the offensive of positive news launched by General David Petraeus and NATO in preparation for the NATO summit in Lisbon (from November 19-20), and to benefit the US electoral calendar. I also see it as an attempt to cause a split among the insurgents.

SPIEGEL: How serious are the talks?

Ruttig: There have always been relations there, but up to now they've been completely without substance. Those involved in the talks are high-ranking individuals, but they can't speak for the insurgency, only for themselves. Many are looking to make a deal for their personal benefit. They'll have to be very careful when they return that no one from the ranks of the insurgency takes revenge on them.

SPIEGEL: What role do the Pakistanis play?

Ruttig: It's a key role. The Pakistanis have clearly signalled to the Taliban that talks will not take place without them. Whoever steps out of line with this rule is arrested, like Mullah Baradar, the one-time second-in-command of the Taliban. The Americans and their Western allies clearly accept this approach.

SPIEGEL: What could a political solution look like?

Ruttig: At the moment we're primarily seeing what it can't look like. NATO has signalled its willingness to enter into talks, but its "Capture or Kill" campaign is still going on. Many high- and middle-ranking commanding officers have been killed. But the movement hasn't been weakened. There are just as many -- or even more -- attacks being committed against Afghan and Western security forces as before. The gaps are filled by younger, more radical and more brutal officers who might be impossible to talk to.

SPIEGEL: So what happens next?

Ruttig: NATO wants a quick political deal so it can withdraw its troops -- possibly including a coalition government with the Taliban. If that happens it won't only be the opposition, spear-headed by representatives of the Northern Alliance, that will be going to the barricades.


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