U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks
The peace talks between the United States and the Taliban which were due to begin on Thursday, appeared to be in disarray after the Afghanistan government stirred a diplomatic row over the Taliban’s office in Qatar. The New York Times reports that American officials have asked the Qatari authorities to ensure that the Taliban removes emblems appearing to project legitimacy, such as a banner reading “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. The banner was removed on Wednesday night, but on “Thursday morning, in better light, it became apparent that their flag was still flying, albeit on a flagpole that had been shortened a couple of yards so the flag could not be seen above the wall by the general public”.
Meanwhile, a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Taliban is expected to be the first confidence-building measure between the two sides, according to a Reuters report which quotes an unnamed Pakistani official. The Taliban is said to be holding in captivity Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who is the only known U.S prisoner of war in the Afghan conflict.
Andrew Small in Foreign Policy argues that China has maintained “substantive dealings” with the Taliban ever since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He writes that “over the last year, China has been expanding its direct contacts with the Taliban and sounding them out on security issues that range from separatist groups in the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the protection of Chinese resource investments, according to interviews with officials and experts in Beijing, Washington, Kabul, Islamabad, and Peshawar. While Beijing would like to see the reconciliation talks succeed in preventing Afghanistan from falling back into civil war, it is not counting on their success, and thus is preparing to deal with whatever constellation of political forces emerges in Afghanistan after the United States withdraws”.
Brahma Chellaney in Project Syndicate writes that the ethnic tensions between Pashtuns and non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the ”American effort to cut a deal with the Pashtun-based, Pakistan-backed Taliban” is stirring deep unease among the non-Pashtun groups,which would make the partition of the country unavoidable.He adds that the United States, in seeking to co-opt the Taliban “is not only bestowing legitimacy on a thuggish militia; it also risks unwittingly reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife, which would most likely tear the country apart for good”. He continues, arguing that “a weak, partitioned Afghanistan may not be a desirable outcome, but a “soft” partition now would be far better than a “hard” partition later, after years of chaos and bloodletting – and infinitely better than the Taliban’s return to power. Indeed, partition may be the only way to prevent a large-scale civil war and to thwart transnational terrorists from re-establishing a base of operations in the rubble”.
Around the World
Special advisor to Japanese PM makes secret visit to China: Japan Times reports that a special advisor to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secretly visited Beijing earlier this week in what appears to be an effort to improve the particularly strained relationship between China and Japan since last year due to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Islands. The report also quotes Abe as saying on Wednesday that he was ready to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He added that “the door for dialogue is always kept open” for China. The two governments have not made any official contact since the dispute escalated last year.
‘New Delhi’s Hunger Games’: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Sadanand Dhume writes about the potentially dangerous consequences of the UPA’s proposed food security bill. According to him, “even if India could afford such spending, the program would still be illogical. Simply put, hunger is yesterday’s battle. In 1983, 15% of Indians answered “yes” when asked if they had “been hungry in some or all months of the year.” Thanks to rising incomes spurred by economic reforms begun in 1991, by 2005 the proportion of hungry Indians had fallen to 2%, or about 25 million people. So why doesn’t government target aid at the truly needy who appear unable to help themselves, rather than spreading largesse to two-thirds of the population? And if ending malnutrition is the goal, then India ought to fix its woeful public sanitation and do a better job of educating citizens about a balanced diet [Pavan Srinath makes the same argument in Pragati]. Again, a shortage of food grains is not the problem.”