Talking to the Taliban: Between Hope and Experience

The release of a seven Afghan prisoners by Pakistan over the weekend has raised hopes, once again, for a formal dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban leaders under the protection of Pakistan.

As so often in the past, the latest move could yet end up disappointing Kabul and the Western governments so eager for a political reconciliation with the Taliban, before the international forces pull out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Pakistan's release of the Taliban leaders followed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Islamabad late last month. This was the first journey by Karzai to Pakistan after the election of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister earlier this year.

Karzai has been pressing for the release of Mullah Mohammad Baradar, who is said to be the most influential Taliban leader after Mullah Omar. Pakistani intelligence had arrested Baradar in 2010 as Karzai was attempting to negotiate, behind Pakistan's back, with the Taliban.

While Baradar was not among the Afghan leaders let out by Pakistan, there is speculation that the ISI might soon release him. Talks between Kabul and Islamabad on Baradar's release "are now in an advanced stage", Monday's reports in Pakistani media said.

Officials in Islamabad have been quoted as saying that Baradar may be transferred either to Saudi Arabia or Turkey and could well lead the talks with the High Peace Council appointed by Karzai.

But there is no indication so far, at least in the public domain, that the Taliban leadership is ready to talk to Kabul. Until now they have been dismissing him as a puppet of the American occupation forces.

Nor is the Taliban's record of keeping promises made to international interlocutors any good. The earlier attempt at engagement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar collapsed last June. Violating the initial agreement, the Taliban sought to project its Doha office as an "embassy" of its "government".

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