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Dispatch: Making the Taliban Politically Legitimate?

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Analyst Kamran Bokhari examines a proposal originating from a meeting between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan to make the Afghan Taliban a legitimate political entity.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Over the past several days, an idea has been floating in the media regarding the Taliban establishing an office, particularly in Turkey. This idea has been floated in the aftermath of a three-way summit involving the Turkish, Pakistani and Afghan leadership. Should this idea materialize, it would represent a significant development in terms of the overall efforts to negotiate with the Afghan insurgent movement.

There are a number of key issues related to this whole notion of the Taliban being able to set up some sort of a political office. It comes in the wake of Turkish efforts to play a larger role in the overall Afghan situation with the Taliban. From the Turkish point of view, being able to make progress on the Afghan issue is a way to let the Americans know that Turkey can play a role and facilitate U.S. efforts in the Islamic world. We've already seen the Turks play this kind of role vis-a-vis Iran. From the American point of view, it needs all the help it can get, and Turkey is trying to use its influence on all sides in this struggle to be able to project itself as a player of influence.

While this serves Turkish interests, it also works to the advantage of the Afghan Taliban because the Afghan Taliban have long been demanding that they should be recognized internationally as a legitimate political movement as part of any effort toward the settlement of Afghanistan and bringing the insurgency in that country to an end. With Turkey jumping into the fray, it seems as though this whole idea is being taken to a new level. That said, there are certain complications in moving toward a situation where the Afghan Taliban can behave as a legitimate political entity and be recognized as such across the world.

First of all, the Afghan Taliban do not represent an organization in the classic sense of the word. In other words, the movement is so diffuse that it is difficult to identify who speaks for the Afghan Taliban. Secondly, and more importantly, is that the Afghan Taliban leadership have a complex relationship with al Qaeda. Some leaders have had connections in the past prior to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and many of the Afghan Taliban leaders continue to have that kind of relationship with al Qaeda. So it becomes very difficult for the international community to accept the Taliban as a legitimate political entity.

It is too early to say whether or not this will work. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of issues that will have to be sorted out. But for now, this seems like a major development in terms of trying to end the insurgency through a negotiated settlement, even though the United States is still focusing on being able to undermine the momentum of the Taliban on the battlefield.

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