WASHINGTON -- UN officials in Kabul held “haphazard” and “irregular” meetings with people who claimed to represent the Taliban, but did not make any serious progress, Peter Galbraith, a former deputy UN envoy to Afghanistan, told the Globe yesterday.
Galbraith spoke out hours after BBC aired an interview with his former boss, Kai Eide, the UN’s former Special Representative to Afghanistan, stating that serious negotiation with the Taliban had been gaining momentum until Pakistan arrested a string of Taliban leaders last month.
Pakistan’s recent arrest of senior Taliban figures pleasantly surprised many in Washington, who have long pressed Pakistan to do more to reign in the militants inside their borders.
But some analysts, including prominent Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid, have speculated that Pakistan only arrested the Taliban officials who were open to peace talks with Afghanistan, in order to send a message that Pakistan must not be excluded from such negotiations.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Karzai had been reaching out with some success to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - a top military strategist and reputed No 2 - before he was arrested and that the move angered Karzai.
Eide’s BBC interview yesterday supported the view that Pakistan was deliberately foiling peace efforts, which Eide called “long overdue.” He said he had been meeting with people who had the authority to speak for Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, who is believed to be hiding in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
“We met people who are senior in the Taliban leadership and who also had the authority of the Quetta Shura to engage in such discussions,” Eide said. He said the talks were initiated a year ago, and that they subsided over the summer, but were renewed in the fall, after the Afghan elections.
He said the meetings, which were later held in Dubai, picked up steam, until Baradar was arrested in February with US help in an operation that US officials have described as a lucky accident. In the days that followed, Pakistan captured more than a dozen other Taliban leaders, prompting praise from Washington. But Eide said the arrested halted UN peace efforts.
“I don’t believe that these people were arrested by coincidence,” he said. “The effect of that in total certainly was negative in our possibility to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary. . . Pakistan has not played the role that they should.”
But Galbraith strongly disputed Eide’s assertions, saying that the people Eide was speaking to claimed to be intermediaries but that it was never clear whether they were authorized to speak for the Taliban.
“He has frankly greatly exaggerated the importance of these meetings, which were haphazard, periodic and nothing special,” said Galbraith in a telephone interview from his home in Townshend, Vermont. “To claim that this was something promising that therefore should have impeded anti-terrorist activities against people we have been trying to get for many years, that is just false.”
He described the recent arrests by Pakistan as the “fruit of the new relationship” the Obama administration is forging with Pakistan.
“We have gone from a situation, during the Bush years, when the Pakistanis would lie to us and we would accept their lies to a partnership,” he said.
Galbraith has had a strained relationship with his former boss, Eide. Last fall, the United Nations recalled him after he wrote a scathing letter accusing Eide of concealing election fraud that benefited Karzai.
Yesterday Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, declined to comment on whether Baradar’s arrest undermined peace efforts, but said: “We are extremely gratified that the Pakistani government has apprehended the number two person in the Taliban, and he is where he belongs.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.