Afghan Negotiator: Taliban Leaders Still A Mystery

September 6, 2011

NPR Staff

Nishant Dahiya
Umar Daudzai is Afghanistan's chief negotiator with the Taliban.

As war grinds on in Afghanistan, there is increasing talk about finding a negotiated solution. It's a complicated proposition that would presumably involve the Afghan government, the United States, Pakistan, the Taliban and potentially others as well.

One man who would be a key figure in any negotiation is Umar Daudzai.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has made Daudzai his chief negotiator with the Taliban.

Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne met with Daudzai, who said he was pleased that NATO now was in favor of working out a deal with the Taliban. He acknowledged, though, that the Taliban remains a difficult group to figure out.

Renee Montagne: The Taliban has various factions within its organization. How easy is it going to be to reach out and know if what one group is saying applies to the rest of the players?

Umar Daudzai: With Taliban, our information about their structure and about their decision-making mechanism is not good enough. We don't really clearly know how it works within the Taliban, because [it] is not a political entity, it's a purely military entity. Sometimes you hear of somebody being an important commander one day, and the other day he is not. And then someday somebody from nowhere appears and becomes the most important commander. So it's not a clear structure.

Montagne: There's even been cases, rather well-known, of somebody who was, apparently, an impostor, who was taken seriously.

Daudzai: Correct. And that's also an indication that our information about the Taliban structure is not good enough. And the Taliban have no political face, so [even though] we see them as a political entity, they don't have a political address.

Montagne: But is not Mullah Omar, who may be the biggest name in America outside Osama bin Laden, the political face and the leader who is reachable as a real person of the Taliban?

Daudzai: He was their supreme leader when Taliban were in power in Kabul. And now, they do say that he is still the leader, but we don't know. I can't say for sure if all decisions are made by Mullah Omar or if Mullah Omar is chairing a council that's making decisions.

Montagne: But you would seem to be one of the people on this planet who have the best information about the Taliban's structure. Do you have some evidence that he isn't the actual person in control?

Daudzai: You don't see his picture, like you'll see picture of Osama bin Laden speaking. You don't see picture of Mullah Omar speaking. We don't even hear his audio voice.

Montagne: Could he be sick or dead?

Daudzai: My current information is that he is not dead, and he is not sick. But it's a question of to what extent is he making the decisions, alone. The most powerful people in the Taliban structure are the most active, the cruelest of their commanders. The one who causes most damage to the Afghan government and United States, they are the most powerful, when it comes to the power of decision-making.

Montagne: So the cruelest might be the younger and less open to negotiation?

Daudzai: The cruelest and the youngest, that are not exposed to global politics. They may be even more difficult to reconcile, which would be bad news, which is bad news.

Montagne: Speaking about the region gets us to Pakistan. Pakistan has never gone after the Afghanistan Taliban leadership that is thought to be in its country, and while they've denied it, there's lots of evidence that that's the case. Where does Pakistan today stand in all of this? Does it have any motivation at this point in time to aid in the reconciliation of the Taliban with the Afghanistan government?

Daudzai: I can only tell you what I have picked up from reading the Pakistani mind. Pakistan wants a friendly government in Afghanistan. We need to convince them that there are other ways to ensure friendliness of an Afghan administration towards Pakistan, without even Taliban. You don't have to bring Taliban to Kabul to make sure that Afghan administration is friendly towards you.

Montagne: What are you saying would be a good reason for doing this?

Daudzai: There are many ways that we discuss with the government of Pakistan. One, we always remind them that five, six years ago there were no Pakistani Taliban. And now there are Pakistani Taliban. And there are Pakistani Taliban because there is conflict in Afghanistan. So we're trying to convince them that prolongation of the conflict will not remain limited to Afghanistan.

Montagne: So it's a danger to Pakistan.

Daudzai: It's a danger to Pakistan. So we are reminding them from that point of view. We are also telling them that we are trying our best to understand your legitimate interests in Afghanistan and your legitimate concerns in Afghanistan, we are trying to understand, which is basically economic, which is access towards Central Asia through Afghanistan, which we share that interest, that's an advantage for us, too. But to say that we have reached the stage that we have convinced them to cooperate with us, to encourage Taliban, to go for reconciliation talks with us, we are not yet there, but I am fairly optimistic that we will get there, inshallah.

Montagne: Is there any reconciliation possible without Pakistan having a big hand in that?

Daudzai: No, it's not possible. And I would rather say, without their general and sincere support, we will not achieve any result.

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