Cablegate: Qayum Karzai and Ambassador Discuss Saudi
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FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
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EO 12958 DECL: 10/17/2018
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SUBJECT: QAYUM KARZAI AND AMBASSADOR DISCUSS SAUDI
REF: A. KABUL 2746 B. RIYADH 1510
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. On October 13, Abdul Qayum Karzai described to the Ambassador the potential Saudi reconciliation process. He and Abdullah Anas developed the current initiative a year ago and secured Taliban engagement through Anas’ connection to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif (former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan). He led a recent Afghan delegation of 17, including former Taliban officials, to Saudi Arabia for an informal meeting of mullahs and an iftar dinner with the King. Qayum expressed concern about the fragility of the process and its vulnerability to being “usurped” by the government. Saudi Arabia agreed to continue facilitating talks, but was firm it would not serve as an intermediary for the Taliban - they must work directly with Afghanistan. Qayum said the King is concerned about being too closely linked to the Taliban and that media speculation regarding the recent Saudi-hosted event made some officials there nervous. Qayum assured the Ambassador the U.S. would be consulted at every step and asked that the U.S. urge the Saudis to remain engaged. (Qayum is President Karzai’s brother and an American citizen.)
2. (C) For the past two and a half years, Qayum said he had been seeking a “bottom-up” process for engagement with reconciliable Taliban outside a governmental framework. Although many senior Taliban were interested in ending hostilities, individual reconciliation was not an option for them politically. In October 2007, Qayum met with Abdullah Anas (former Algerian mujahideen commander now living in London) to discuss Anas’ proposal of engaging Muslim clerics and scholars to create a framework for talks with the Taliban. Qayum suggested Saudi Arabia or Dubai. Anas agreed and began to consul prominent Muslim scholars, rallying them around their shared concern that Taliban violence gave Islam “a bad name” throughout the world.
SEEKING SAUDI INVOLVEMENT
3. (C) Anas and Qayum met with Dr. Mansour, advisor to King Abdullah, to ask Saudi Arabia to host the first engagement in this process: gathering a “group of mullahs.” Mansour reacted positively to Saudi Arabia serving this role, in part because as it would dilute Saudi Arabia’s identification with Pakistan - and extremism. According to Qayum, Mansour stated “the international community sees us as a front.” Qayum noted that the Saudis see a directly link between Afghanistan’s security and their own stability concerns.
TALIBAN MULLAH ZAIF AGREES TO PARTICIPATE
4. (C) In April 2008, Qayum hosted Dr. Mansour, Anas and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaif, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and informal line to Mullah Omar, at his home in Kandahar. Qayum said that when his guests arrived the television was showing footage of a Taliban bombing attack on a mosque earlier that day. The men were visibly upset by the carnage, including Zaif. The shared reaction to the bombing set the tone for constructive talks and Zaif agreed to participate. Qayum shared his view that Zaif is trying to carve a political space within the Taliban for reconciliation.
QAYUM PREPARES THE GROUND AND THE SAUDIS ENGAGE - CAUTIOUSLY
5. (C) As a result of Qayum’s, and then President Karzai’s, meetings with Dr. Mansour, King Abdullah called Karzai directly to discuss the proposed process. (The King’s role energized Karzai’s interest in the process for the first time.) Over the next few months Qayum hosted a number of Taliban representatives in Kandahar to continue preparations.
6. (C) Through the spring and summer representatives from both Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan shuttled back and forth. Qayum and former Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid worked
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closely together, traveling to Saudi to meet with Mansour and Prince Miqrin, head of Saudi intelligence. Mansour made more visits to Kabul and Anas continued to serve as go-between with Zaif and Taliban. In August, Saudi Arabia agreed to host an initial contact meeting during Ramadan -- stressing the importance of maintaining a low profile. While indicating the King Abdullah’s desire to assist, Miqrin made it clear the King was approaching the process cautiously and did not want to be linked too closely to the Taliban. Miqrin said Saudi Arabia didn’t want “to be alone in this,” highlighting the importance of keeping the U.S. and U.K. informed. Miqrin also stressed the Taliban leadership should not see Saudi Arabia’s willingness to support the talks as an indication the country would serve as an intermediary; the Taliban must pursue the reconciliation process directly with Afghanistan.
THE SEPTEMBER MEETING
7. (C) In organizing the trip, Qayum, Mansour and Zaif agreed the focus would be on religious activities and peaceful exchanges, in keeping with the Ramadan season. Both sides agreed a large group would not be advisable so there were 17 in the Afghan delegation, and only a subset would attend all meetings. In addition to Zaif, Maulavi Ahmad Mutawakkil (Taliban ex-Foreign Minister), Maulvi Abdul Hadi Shinwari (former chief justice) and current Afghan senator Arsala Rahmani agreed to attend. Qayum denied reports that Hekmatyar sent a representative; he said Hekmatyar’s nephew was in Saudi Arabia at the same time, but did not participate in the talks.
8. (C) Qayum said the Saudis orchestrated the encounter carefully. When the Taliban group arrived, Qayum went to his room while Mansour remained with the group to welcome them. Mansour, like Miqrin, made opening points to the Taliban: Saudi Arabia condemned the killing of innocents in Afghanistan and viewed the Afghan constitution with the same respect as its own; both share a common basis in the Koran. The Saudis further clarified they would not support any Taliban proposals that infringed on the authority of the central Afghan government - such as the establishment of autonomous regions.
9. (C) Qayum said Prince Miqrin called him just before dawn to brief him on the dinner and meeting. Miqrin said a large group had come from Medina to meet the Afghan delegation and there had been an enthusiastic response from the Quetta participants. Qayum said everyone reacted nervously when details of the process first leaked to the media - especially the Taliban participants and the Saudis. Miqrin suggested an alternative location might be needed for talks - perhaps Dubai.
QAYUM DETERMINED TO KEEP PROCESS DISCIPLINED AND OUT OF GOVT HANDS
10. (C) The Ambassador praised Qayum’s leadership on this important issue. He stressed that such talks require discipline and patience. Afghanistan must deal from a position of strength. Qayum agreed, saying that if the military pressure on the Taliban eased the process would fail. He confided what he had told Dr. Mansour - that the engagement must be kept simple and focused at the beginning - with the same facilitators guiding it until it matured. It would collapse if too many people - or governments - became involved. Qayum repeatedly expressed concern that the government might “usurp” the process: “An Afghan government-based negotiation would lead to everyone at the table demanding a slice (of the government), but the government would be unable to satisfy all of these competing demands and would take the blame for the negotiations’ failure.”
11. (C) The Ambassador asked that the U.S. be advised if Afghanistan engaged any Taliban with ties to Al Qaeda and/or global terrorism in the reconciliation process - figures like Mullah Omar and Mullah Barader. The U.S. did not oppose this
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process, stressed the Ambassador, but would not be a participant either. Qayum accepted this and commented that he saw no way for Mullah Omar to survive the process - he didn’t have the intelligence or popular support to emerge on top. He and Barader were hated by too many elements within the Pashtun spectrum. Perhaps exile was an option for them. In closing, Qayum assured the Ambassador that the U.S. would be kept informed of all developments.
12. (C) Qayum has President Karzai’s confidence, but is a neophyte in such a process. The encounter in Saudi Arabia was with Afghan and Taliban proxies, rather than decision-makers. It is especially unclear what connection Zaif and the other so-called Taliban representatives have with the Taliban leadership, although there are reports that Zaif met with two representatives from the Quetta Shura who had shadowed the delegation to follow developments and report back. President Karzai is interested in this process at least as much because it represents a step forward in support from King Abdullah as because it holds some prospect for neutralizing some or all of the Taliban. That said, this encounter could bring Saudi Arabia closer to Afghanistan and could have some benefits with the Taliban, especially if other pressures on the Taliban continue to grow. We intend to be supportive, but without unrealistic expectations, and certainly with no direct U.S. involvement.