Monday, September 10, 2007

Who blinked: Karzai or the Taliban?

Reuters reported yesterday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is panicking:

Afghanistan's Karzai urges Taliban talks after scare
Sun Sep 9, 2007 6:14AM EDT
By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed a call for talks with Taliban insurgents on Sunday, shortly after a security scare forced him to cut short a commemoration speech when gunshots were fired outside the venue.

However, today we get a different picture, from AFP via the News of Australia.

Taliban says it is 'ready for talks'
By Nasrat Shoaib in Kandahar
September 10, 2007 09:20pm
Article from: Agence France-Presse

THE Taliban said today it was ready for talks with the Afghan Government after President Hamid Karzai offered negotiations in a bid to end the rebels' nearly six-year bloody insurgency.

Mr Karzai made the offer yesterday, with the insurgency spiralling to its highest level this year, saying peace could not be achieved without dialogue.

"For the sake of national interests ... we are fully ready for talks with the Government," senior Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said.

"Whenever the Government formally asks for negotiations, we are ready," he said. The movement had a "limited" number of conditions for a meeting, he added without elaborating.

Ahmadi said the Taliban could hold talks with the Afghan Government as they had with South Korean officials over 21 hostages whom the hardliners freed last month after several meetings.

"As we did hold negotiations with the South Korean Government, we can hold talks at an even higher level with the Government," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

So who blinked? Well, here's a bit more from the Reuters story:

Karzai has repeatedly offered talks with the Taliban, but the guerrillas have refused.

Hmmmm... sounds like Karzai hasn't changed his position at all.

Then there's this from the AFP story:

Ahmadi said it was not clear if Mr Karzai's offer was genuine. "Our understanding is the Government, which terms the Taliban as terrorists, would not ask for negotiations," he said.

Mr Karzai has regularly offered talks with the Taliban, which was in government between 1996 and 2001, and there have been rumours that contact has already been made.

He denied yesterday that "formal negotiations" were under way with the militants but said he was ready to start such dialogue if he could find the "address for the Taliban."

Ahmadi said: "If they want our address - we're among the people. If they're honest for talks, we're ready for it."

Asked for a reaction to the Taliban yesterday, Mr Karzai's spokesman Homayun Hamidzada said the "government's doors are open to anyone who agrees to obey the constitution and other laws of the country to join peace."

It sounds a lot more like the Taliban are tired of getting nowhere with their insurgency. Yes, they set off a lot of suicide bombs but these kill a lot of innocent civilians (183 so far this year) and are generally ineffective against Coalition troops (only 10 killed in suicide bombings this year). In combat operations, the Taliban are losing many times more fighters than they are costing the Coalition. Despite the recent tapes from al-Qaida extolling the purity of jihad, the Taliban may be yearning for the relative quiet of politics.

Of course, if all you had to go on were Reuters' reports, you'd never know it.

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