Googling the history of our Afghanistan adventure the other day, I encountered a snide Vancouver Sun article written in 2008 mocking “Taliban Jack” for his position on the war, sarcastically summarizing his views as, “Bring in the UN, facilitate discussions among the warring parties, directly engage the Taliban leadership, develop a comprehensive peace plan, build consensus around a political settlement. That kind of thing.”
Well it seems “that kind of thing” has caught on. The Sun pilloried Jack’s views as anti-American, yet now the Americans are adopting his position. The United States and Britain are currently pressing the UN to lift sanctions against 18 former senior Taliban leaders. (The U.S. asking the UN to lift sanctions rather than impose them is in itself remarkable.) The reason for the American and British action is almost certainly to allow the Taliban chiefs to travel outside of Afghanistan for peace negotiations. With the sanctions lifted, the Taliban could establish a political office in a third country. Turkey, Turkmenistan and Qatar have offered to host such an office.
The sanctions were imposed in 1999, when the Taliban were in power, and were expanded after 9/11, with dozens of insurgents banned from traveling or holding bank accounts. Removing the restrictions, a move long supported by the Afghan government, has been a key demand of the insurgents.
The first direct meetings between U.S. officials and the Taliban were reported to have taken place last month in Qatar and Germany. Apparently the talks included the personal secretary of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader.
So there you have it. Jack Layton was on the right, perhaps inevitable, track all along. What will we hear now from the cynics—Taliban Barak?