Cablegate: Mullah Zaeef: Peace Now a Necessity

DE RUEHBUL #0503/01 0401054
P 091054Z FEB 10 ZDK

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 000503


EO 12958 DECL: 02/08/2020

REF: A. KABUL 0484 B. KABUL 0441
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Classified By: Acting Deputy Ambassador Joseph A. Mussomeli; Reasons ( b) and (d)

1. (S) Summary: Former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef advocates peace as “the only option now” for Afghanistan. While encouraged by the latest attention to achieving peace in Afghanistan, he believes action and sincerity, not talk and good intentions, are required to make progress. He also wants negotiations among all involved parties, including armed Taliban and those who are active within the constitutional order, and that obstacles such as the UN and U.S. “blacklists” must be removed before these talks can start. Zaeef’s viewpoint could reflect his annoyance at the pace of reconciliation talks that may have left him on the sidelines. End Summary.

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Negotiations First
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2. (S) In a recent meeting on February 8 with former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef at his modest residence in Kabul’s Pasthun-dominant Khush-Haal neighborhood, Zaeef told us he was convinced that there is no longer any other option than peace for Afghanistan: peace is “a requirement” for Afghans, Americans, and the international community at large. However, while encouraged by the latest attention to political settlement in Afghanistan, “talk and good intentions are not enough; rather, action, strategy, and sincerity are required to make progress.” In particular, Zaeef expressed skepticism about Karzai’s true intentions, because “Karzai is deceiving all sides. “When he sits with me, he tells me he wants the foreign troops to leave, then he tells you he wants them to stay forever, and he tells yet a third story to Islamic leaders of other countries,” Zaeef said. Karzai’s only clear objective is to remain in power; he thinks the presence of foreign troops will help him do so, opined Zaeef.

3. (S) Zaeef posited that the peace process must first start with negotiations among all involved parties, including armed and disarmed Taliban, and that “hurdles” must be removed before entering these talks; only after successful negotiations can reintegration and reconciliation occur, he asserted. To our query regarding which hindrances must be removed, he listed ending the Taliban’s isolation by removing them from the UN (1267) and U.S. blacklists (Zaeef continues on the 1267 list) and the cessation of foreign hostilities against the group during the negotiations.

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Taliban Saved Afghanistan from Disintegration
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4. (S) While most Afghans want an end to hostilities, Zaeef said, warlords do not and they were the reason the Taliban seized control of the country to begin with. Without Taliban intervention and its imposition of a strong dictatorship, Afghanistan would have been divided between Pakistan and Iran. Zaeef said when the Taliban seized power, their first priority was to instill order and governance by ruling with a strict hand. They had also tried to establish a central government to defend against “challenges from the region,” and had attempted to “clear the country of warlords” who had ruled pieces of the country and had committed horrible human rights abuses. “Unfortunately, we were unable to even achieve our first goal,” he lamented. Zaeef insisted that if the Taliban had remained in power, it would have gradually become more moderate.

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Taliban Are Not Misogynists
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5. (S) Like Muttawakil (Ref. A), Zaeef asserted that the Taliban were not misogynists who opposed women’s education and the right to work, as long as their actions did not violate Islam. While acknowledging the Taliban made some mistakes, he countered that saving Afghanistan from disintegration far outweighed the Taliban’s negative actions. Moreover, now that conditions in Afghanistan had changed, he believed if peace were made with the Taliban, the “old strict rules” would not return. He asserted that Mullah Omar’s intention was not to topple the Afghan government; rather he sought reforms to the Constitution and other laws so they could be in accordance with Islam. (Comment: While some “ex-Taliban” assert that the Taliban seek only minor - unspecified - Constitutional revisions, others insist that
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the changes must be so far-reaching, such as reversing equal protections for women and elevating Sharia law above other constitutional provisions, that it amounts to a full revision. End Comment.)

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Foreigners Will Never Win A Military Victory
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6. (S) Responding to our reference to extreme versus moderate Taliban elements, Zaeef suggested that we should instead differentiate the Taliban by whether they choose force or peace to achieve their objectives. Ultimately, however, the armed Taliban obey the orders of their political leaders; therefore, only a political solution will work, reasoned Zaeef. Furthermore, while Americans have attempted to make the war an international cause, it is “clearly America’s war” and the Iranians, Russians, Chinese, and Pakistanis, and even the British, are content for various reasons to see you mired in a quagmire here, he said. Foreigners have never won a military victory in Afghanistan, Zaeef warned.

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7. (S) Zaeef has been relatively quiet during the government’s formulation of the reintegration/reconciliation policy unveiled in London, although he is certainly one of Karzai’s informal advisors in this regard and appears to maintain contact with Taliban leadership. He appeared annoyed at not being more engaged in the policy development and also may be waiting less patiently for his delisting in view of the January 25 breakthrough which delisted five other Afghans.

8. (S) In a February 5 Inter Press Service (IPS) article by Gareth Porter, titled “Peace Talks May Follow Ex-Taliban Mediators Plan,” Porter claimed that Karzai had personally asked ex-Taliban officials to help start the peace negotiations through a “road map” for a political settlement and mentions Zaeef, Muttawakil, and former Taliban commander Arsullah Rahmani (currently a Parliamentarian) as “ex-Taliban” liaisons. The article also suggests that Mullah Omar may have selected Zaeef as his point of contact for talks with the Americans and NATO and laid down some initial conditions of settlement. Some of those conditions coincide with President Karzai’s call at the London Conference for an end to night raids and detentions by foreigners. No matter how reconstituted, the Taliban mentality remains one that many Afghans fear (Ref. B), and the Government of Afghanistan should increase its efforts to assure the whole population that there will be no peace deal at the expense of non-Pashtuns and women’s rights. End Comment. Eikenberry

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