By: Meir Javedanfar
This week a flurry of reports have been reaching us from Afghanistan.
First there was the report from the British commander in Afghanistan who said:
“the war could not be won and that the goal was to reduce the insurgency to a level where it was no longer a strategic threat and could be dealt with by the Afghan army”.
From this public admission, the UN’s top official in the country went a step further by stating:
“success is only possible through political means including dialogue between all relevant parties”.
Notice the words “all relevant parties”. This means Al Qaeda and the Taliban. A taboo subject until now.
Within a day after this report was published, there was another report saying that “several senior Taliban officials have participated in drawing up a Saudi-U.K initiative to end the war in Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile CNN has already popped open the Champagne by stating in a report that
“Taliban split with al Qaeda, seeks peace”.
It goes on to say that the talks, which have been hosted by Saudi Arabia were approved by Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, which has recently decided to break ranks with Al Qaeda.
For now, the Afghani government has denied the talks. But, one can not ignore the flurry of reports from credible US and Canadian press. Therefore we must sit and wait.
Meanwhile the involvement of Saudi Arabia in these important talks can not be ignored. They are the only government who had relations with the Taliban and the US at the same time in the 90s. Since focus is now being shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, the position of Saudis as go betweens will increase greatly, and so will their regional leverage.
This will come at a cost to Iran, who has aimed to become the region’s play maker. But it could be that this is one game that Iran is happy to lose. The Afghan dilemma is a worrying one for Tehran, and its influence there is not as great as the Saudis. So if there can reign in on Al Qaeda who also threatens Iran, then maybe Tehran can live with that part of the deal.
But this also presents a dilemma: if the Saudis do come through with a peace deal, that will mean that the US and NATO will be relieved from a major burden. In theory, they could refocus their efforts against Iran. So how will Iran feel about that, and more importantly, if and how Ayatollah Khamenei’s government would be willing to prevent such a scenario.