Their lips say “no,” but their unnamed sources speaking to CNN say yes.
There has been a lot of talk over the past week of a “secret” round of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban sponsored by the Saudis with British backing. And while the Taliban formally denied the rumor almost as soon as it cropped up, the story simply won’t die.
Of course, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has played some role in keeping the rumors alive, with his interview on Pakistani television last week which implored Taliban leader Mullah Omar to return to the country, promising to be responsible for his safety. The Taliban rejected that too, saying they didn’t believe Karzai was in a position to make such a promise as a “puppet” of the US, an unsurprising position given the State Department’s $10 million reward for the Mullah’s capture.
The Taliban has maintained that the rumors are designed to sow mistrust with their allies, a significant fact when CNN reported this morning that the Taliban had in fact severed ties with al-Qaeda and is still participating in the talks. They cite unnamed “sources,” both Saudi and Afghan, who claimed that Mullah Omar’s representative stressed the leader no longer had any ties with al-Qaeda.
So where does that leave us? With a lot of unanswered questions. For instance, if Mullah Omar is already secretly in talks with President Karzai’s government, why would Karzai publicly pressure him to return? Why would the Taliban not just deny the talks but publicly denounce Karzai and vow to continue the war until all foreign troops leave? Perhaps most pressingly, why would the US continue to launch attacks against Taliban targets in Pakistan if reconciliation talks are already underway?
It also leaves us with one other thing we didn’t have before: a direct denial by the Afghan government that any talks have taken place or are scheduled to take place. The government did say it would welcome such talks, and that it would be great if the Saudis actually did such a thing, but they categorically denied the rumors.
The Taliban also denied the rumors yet again, leaving perhaps one more unanswered question. If neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government is participating in these peace talks, how have these rumors gotten so far?