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Cablegate: Ex-Taliban Seek Mediation Role

O 310653Z JUL 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L KABUL 001975


EO 12958 DECL: 07/30/2018

Classified By: Acting Political Counselor Jeremiah Howard, for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).


1. (C) On July 29, President Karzai gave the Ambassador a plan for negotiations with the Taliban that he had received from Taliban reconcilees (SEPTEL). In a meeting arranged by the presidency at our request the next day, prominent ex-Taliban said they are well-placed to mediate reconciliation with the insurgency, but argued they are hampered from doing so by their inclusion on U.N. List 1267. In earlier discussions, former Taliban government officials told us they reject Mullah Omar’s fanaticism, rigidity and alliance with Al Qaeda, but that they fear the Taliban are in the ascendant and becoming more extreme. They stressed they accept the current constitution in general, but do want amendments to make clear the primacy of Islam.

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Presidency Wants to Exploit Ex-Taliban as Mediators
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2. (C) On July 30, Deputy National Security Advisor Engineer Ibrahim Spinzada, who is seeking U.S. support in convincing Russia to allow removal of names from United Nations List 1267, responded to our earlier request to arrange a meeting for Political Officers with reconcilees from the former Taliban government. He convoked to the meeting ex-Foreign Minister Maulavi Ahmad Mutawakkil, the Taliban nominee for ambassador to the United Nations Abdul Hakim Mujadid (Note: The Taliban regime was never accepted as sovereign by a preponderance of the world community), ex-Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Habibullah Fawzi, and ex-Deputy Education Minister and current Afghan Senator Arsala Rahmani.

3. (C) The four ex-Taliban mentioned the plan for negotiations that had
been given to President Karzai, and, without referring directly to its text, emphasized several key points: -- Force alone cannot defeat the Taliban in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, but since the roots of Taliban insurgency lie in Afghanistan, resolution of conflict here would undermine Taliban rebellion in the FATA and NWFP; -- If the Taliban are reconciled, allied opposition groups, including those led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or the Haqqanis, would disappear; -- Ex-Taliban are an unused resource for President Karzai and the international community, since they alone have access to both political leaders and command levels of the insurgency, and are willing to mediate in negotiations; -- There should be no preconditions for negotiations, which could take place in the Gulf or Saudi Arabia, or in Afghanistan in the presence of international forces; -- Negotiations should be an incremental process, avoiding initially issues such as ceasefire or the prison at Guantanamo, and stressing instead the cessation of Taliban attacks on NGOs, schools or roads, government commitment to minimize civilian casualties and good-will detainee releases; -- Reconcilees represent a silent majority in the Taliban who simply want to end the war, and had publicly accepted the constitution though they would favor amendments to enhance the constitutional role of Islam; -- Negotiations, reconciliation and restoration of security can and should be followed by elections, and some ex-Taliban would like to be candidates. -- Only when key moderates are removed from the 1267 List will they have the credibility needed to convince insurgents they can guarantee agreements they broker with Karzai or the international community.

Ex-Taliban Moderates as an Inchoate Movement

4. (SBU) In the weeks leading up to our July 30 meeting, we established contact with numerous senior ex-Taliban. We provide the paragraphs below to give a sense of what they are thinking about how to end the insurgency and how best to achieve democratic -- but Islamic -- governance.

5. (SBU) Former Foreign Ministry aide Waheed Mujda has written a book on the Taliban (“Ahmed Rashid wrote from the outside, but I wrote from inside”). In the summer of 2001, he says he went to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to warn that Al Qaeda planned to use “massive explosives” to attack the U.S.

6. (SBU) Mujda repots that immediately after 9/11, the Taliban began to fracture over the wisdom and morality of attacking civilians, over lost economic opportunities if the Taliban isolated itself from the West, and over dangers to be faced if the U.S. occupied Afghanistan. There was also concern about growing reliance on Pakistan’s ISI and deepening ties to Al Qaeda. Mujda hoped at the time that the U.S. would wait to attack the Taliban, since he predicted there would be “within the year” a definitive split between urban intellectuals led by Foreign Minister Mutawakkil, and Mullah Omar’s village-based obscurantists. After the U.S. “installed” Karzai, though, he saw moderates’ chances evaporating, while many lower-ranking Taliban with little commitment to either Mutawakkil or Mullah Omar proved opportunistic, waiting simply to see if the international community and Karzai could govern.

7. (SBU) Mujda lamented that Karzai named governors who harassed ex-Taliban of all ranks rather than open a dialog. Meanwhile, Mujda alleged, international forces committed atrocities, such as breaking down doors and searching women, that “even the Soviets taught soldiers to avoid.” Afraid of “death or Guatanamo,” some moderates concluded they had n alternative but to return to Mullah Omar. Wth the war ongoing, he contends, the Taliban as expanded its original commitments to “sharia, security and territorial integrity,” to enompass an international dimension including demands that the U.S. leave Saudi Arabia.

Civilian Casualties and “Hunger Suicides”

8. (C) The Taliban’s Attorney General, Maulavi Jalal-u-Din Shinwari, agrees the Taliban is growing even more militant. Taliban ideologues have no serious doctrinal competition, he complained: the Karzai-allied Ulema Council is slow and inactive, meeting “only once a year, and that’s in the presidential palace.” Since moderates have limited effective intellectual or spiritual leadership, the Taliban and hardline mullahs in Pakistan have commandeered the right to define jihad, and channeled the jihadi impulse into “radical and violent forms.”

9. (C) Shinwari lambasted international forces for repeated civilian casualty incidents, which make the Taliban’s recruiting and ideological tasks easier. These “indiscriminate attacks” enable the Taliban to argue the U.S. does not care about Afghans or Islam, and that Karzai is in complicity with the U.S. or incapable of curbing U.S. excesses. As if this intense anger were not enough, he sputtered, there is also the despair of deepening poverty and inequality, creating for the first time “hunger suicides,” who kill and die either to collect a Taliban payment or simply to lighten the economic burden on their families by removing one more mouth to feed.

Not a Loose Cannon

10. (SBU) Parliamentary Deputy Mullah Abdul Salaam Rocketi, whose name derives from his deft touch with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, warns that the U.S. has not carefully identified its enemies. If the U.S. continues to “fight everyone,” including Al Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and both Taliban radicals and moderates, then he warns we cannot win, and that Pakistan, Iran or Russia will dominate Afghanistan.

11. (C) Rocketi counsels that “Karzai is lost,” a feckless ally for the U.S. whose cabinet, he argues, is driven by members’ separate and competing interests, unconcerned by the public’s needs. On the infrequent occasions when Karzai works up the courage or is forced to “fire the thieves,” Rocketi mutters, “he just replaces them with new thieves.” Karzai’s failure, he concludes, is “expanding the Taliban’s once narrow doors of entry into wide gates.” The U.S. must identify who within the Taliban is moderate or amenable to dialog, and work with them to seek peace and agree on how Afghanistan is to be governed.

Alternatives to Mullah Omar

12. (SBU) Two figures generally recognized as heading the ex-Taliban moderates are ex-Foreign Minister Mutawakkil, and ex-Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salim Zaef, who spent four years at Guantanamo and whom some see as the stronger of the two. We talked to them separately in late July.

13. (C) Mutawakil said the U.S. must realize there are two kinds of reconciliation. One, which he calls the U.S. strategy, is designed to entice insurgents into supporting Karzai. The other, he distinguished, is designed to end the war and achieve an understanding between the two warring Afghan sides. The war is being driven by foreign allies, he explained, but the U.S. on one side and Al Qaeda on the other have their own priorities. Mutawakil said he had advised Karzai to carry out negotiations with the insurgency, but to aim for incremental progress, concentrating first on small resolvable issues. Further, he had told Karzai, any negotiations must be conducted in private, with no interfering media coverage. The mediators, he half-joked, can be only “those whom neither the government nor Taliban want to be killed,” and who maintain impartial contact with both warring sides. To make mediation possible, Zaef and Mutawakkil agree, U.N. 1267 restrictions must be lifted.

14. (C) Mutawakkil and Zaef believe firmly that the international community is distancing itself irreparably from ordinary Afghans. Mutawakkil argues that, as the U.S.-led coalition intensifies military operations, it drives the Taliban to seek self-preservation by attaching itself more closely to Al Qaeda and the Pakistani ISI. Zaef warns that the U.S. lacks cultural knowledge and sensitivity necessary to run Afghanistan through Karzai, and that given the difficulty of running legitimate and credible elections, it should allow the transfer of governing authority to a Loya Jirga. He warns that to be effective and bring peace, the members of this Jirga cannot be named by Karzai or seen to be puppets of the U.S., and that they should be named by a pre-Jirga representing tribal and religious leaders from the entire country. He says there should also be a jirga commission to discuss “flaws” in the current constitution.

15. (C) Mutawakkil elaborated on what the Afghan constitution should be like. Democracy, he stipulated, is a means to a better and peaceful life, and is not a means in itself. An Islamic base can be built for a better life, and the Taliban’s biggest mistake was in not understanding the need to avoid meddling in private lives. The Department for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice did not understand proportionality: it used major force and applied severe punishments for even minor violations, and in so doing lost public confidence.

16. (C) The constitution, Mutawakkil continued, is as it stands now “a piece of paper,” which even Karzai’s nominal allies and opponents in Parliament fail to respect. He thinks the constitution should be amended to garner wider respect. The primary article to be amended is the commitment to freedom of religion, since Islam must be acknowledged as paramount. This would not affect the country’s Hindus and Sikhs (“there are no Afghan Christians and only one Jew”), who would continue to be allowed freedom of religion. No Muslim, though, Mutawakkil continued, could be allowed to abandon Islam without punishment in the form of prison or banishment.

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