Republican opposition to diplomatic compromise with the Taliban is blocking the release of a captured U.S soldier held since 2009 and broader negotiations aimed at a resolution of the decade-long war.
A recent German interview with a leading Afghan diplomatic mediator, Naquibullah Shorish, describes the stalled scenario for peace in some detail. The process, launched with Obama administration support in Qatar in 2010 under German mediation, was to begin with a prisoner exchange as a trial test for further talks. The American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bigdahl, who was captured on June 30, 2009, was to be released in a swap for five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo. The Taliban believed the exchange had US approval. But US Republican opposition made Congressional approval impossible, and the talks have floundered ever since.
In short, the US troop withdrawal clock is ticking towards its 2014 deadline while the hands of the diplomatic clock have stopped. Mitt Romney, goaded by his top foreign policy adviser John Bolton, has steadfastly opposed talks with the Taliban while remaining vague about his support for the 2014 drawdown.
The result could be catastrophic. If the US simply withdraws troops from combat without a political agreement, the battlefield balance of forces will tip towards the Taliban with the White House taking the blame. If the US stops or reverses its troop withdrawal, it will lose political support and credibility without being able to reverse the military stalemate. Or the Karzai regime, already swirling in corruption scandals and palace intrigue, could implode from within.
The interview with Shorish, a mediator with links to all parties, appeared at aixpaix.de by the writer Otto Steinbicker on July 8. Shorish said that the talks could be rejuvenated at any time, directly or through third-party mediation. "The Taliban want the conflict to be settled,” Shorish said, by an agreement with the US and Europeans, and eventually with the Karzai regime. Beyond the prisoner exchange impasse, he said, the key obstacle is negotiating an interim governing arrangement pending future national elections, by securing and neutralizing a province inside Afghanistan where talks could take place. Currently, Taliban representatives are barred from diplomatic entry to Afghanistan. Security arrangements in the neutral setting would have to be guaranteed, in the Shorish plan, by the US-NATO forces, against any threat by US drones or Pakistan's security services which now provide sanctuary—and exercise pressure on—the Taliban leadership and organization.
The US and Karzai administrations currently insist on Taliban acceptance of the Afghan constitution, a demand they are unable to impose by force of arms. In its place, Shorish argues, a new constitution will have to be negotiated among the parties, while withdrawing American combat troops are replaced by an international security force drawn from noncombatant countries to supervise a cease-fire.
Shorish recognizes that under the previous Taliban regime "women's rights were trampled" and "the Taliban recognizes that this was a mistake." The plan assumes preservation of the modest gains by Afghan women in education and political representation in the Kabul parliament, with an enforceable blueprint to be negotiated.
The alternative, according to the Afghan mediator, is a deepening of Afghan's emerging civil war with Western interests further marginalized.
For the full interview, please see Aachener Friedensmagazin.