Hillary Clinton's Peace Talks with the Taliban

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton orchestrated peace talks with the Taliban.  The first meeting took place in Germany on November 28, 2010.  Clinton sent a State Department official to meet with the Taliban leader’s chief of staff.  Additional meetings were held after that, and Clinton continued to push negotiations with the Taliban right up to the time she left office on February 1, 2013.

In the months leading up to that first meeting in Germany, the Taliban in Afghanistan killed 10 medical aid workers, including 6 Americans.  In the Kunduz province of Afghanistan Taliban commanders ordered the stoning of a 19-year-old woman.  She was put in a pit, was stoned, tried to crawl out, and was then shot three times in the head.  In Pakistan, the Taliban blew up two girls’ schools.

Two thousand seven hundred seventy-seven Afghan civilians were killed in 2010, with 75% of those deaths attributed to Taliban attacks, according to the U.N.  In that same year, 496 American military were killed, as were another 212 coalition forces. Five thousand two hundred forty-six Americans were wounded.  Eight hundred twenty-one Afghan army and security forces were killed.

In the book Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton wrote, “To be reconciled, insurgents would have to lay down their arms, reject al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. And reconciliation should not come at the expense of Afghanistan’s progress on gender equality and human rights or lead to a return of reactionary social policies. That was a concern I felt passionately about[.] … I made the … criteria for integration – abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, support the Constitution – a mantra of my diplomacy.”

In December of 2010, a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban killed 15 civilians in the Khan Neshin district of Helmand province.  In January 2011, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 17 and wounded 23 as the men were washing up before Friday prayer in southern Afghanistan.

In February of 2011, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 9 and wounded 40 in an attack on a police headquarters in Khost, Afghanistan.  The road was covered with blood and body parts, and pieces of human flesh were scattered 50 meters from the blast site.

Back at the State Department, Clinton and her staff were discussing “the idea of major speech on the prospects for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”  Of the February 18, 2011 speech in New York, Clinton wrote, “I explained that we were conducting a third surge, a diplomatic one, aimed at moving the conflict toward a political outcome that would shatter the alliance between the Taliban and al Qaeda, end the insurgency, and help produce a more stable Afghanistan and a more stable region.”

“This is the price for reaching a political resolution … I said, including a subtle but important shift in language, describing these steps as “necessary outcomes” of any negotiation rather than ʻpreconditions.ʼ It was a nuanced change, but it would clear the way for direct talks.”

A second meeting was held with the Taliban, this time in Qatar, and a third in May of 2011.

During this period – March, April, and May – a Taliban gunman killed the principal of a girls’ school in Afghanistan after he ignored a warning to stop teaching girls.  A Taliban suicide bomber set off a bomb in a hospital cafeteria, killing medical students.  Taliban fighters killed 35 workers of a road construction company in the Paktia province of Afghanistan.  A  Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside an Afghan recruiting center, killing 36 people, including 5 children. The children were mainly shoe shine boys, working in the crowd.  A Taliban spokesman said they “were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton continued: “We began discussing confidence-building measures that both sides could take. We wanted the Taliban to make public statements disassociating themselves from al Qaeda and international terrorism and committing to participate in a peace process with Karzai and his government. The Taliban wanted to be allowed to open a political office in Qatar that would provide a safe place for future negotiations and engagement. We were open to this idea[.] … As a first step, we agreed to begin working with the United Nations to remove a few key Taliban members from the terrorist sanctions list, which imposed a travel ban. ”

In May of 2011, the Afghan government leaked word of the secret talks, which were then suspended.  Clinton sent a State Department official to Doha to “pass a message through the Qataris to the Taliban urging them to return to the table. In early July [2011] the Qataris reported that Agha [the Taliban leader’s chief of staff] was willing to return[.] ... Talks resumed in Doha in August.”

In June, July, and August of 2011, the Taliban attacked a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 12.  The Taliban claimed they killed 90 people and argued that the real news of their “success” was being suppressed.  The Taliban launched a cross-border attack from Pakistan into Afghanistan, killing 38 Afghans.  In northwestern Afghanistan, 23 people were killed, including 12 children, when roadside bombs exploded into crowded mini-buses.

Of the continued talks Clinton wrote: “There were constructive discussions about an office in Doha and possible prisoner swaps.”  And “by late fall [2011], however, the pieces seemed finally in place.”

Four hundred twelve American military were killed in Afghanistan in 2011, as were another 148 of the coalition forces.  Five thousand one hundred ninety-nine Americans were wounded.  Three thousand twenty-one Afghan civilians were killed, 77% of those deaths caused by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, according to a U.N. report.  Five hundred eleven Afghan army and security forces were killed.

In the September 2011-to-January 2012 period, a Taliban suicide bomber killed the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and four others.  A Taliban car bomber killed 17 people, including 13 Americans.  The bomber blew up his car while driving next to a NATO shuttle bus traveling in Kabul.  A Taliban suicide bomber in northern Afghanistan killed 19 at a funeral, including the anti-Taliban member of parliament believed to be the target.

Clinton explained that “[i]n January of 2012 the Taliban once again pulled out of our talks.”  “This time it was not so easy to coax them back. The peace process went into a deep freeze.”

Three hundred one American military were killed in 2012 in Afghanistan, as were another 92 of the coalition forces.  Two thousand eight hundred seventy-seven Americans were wounded.  Two thousand seven hundred fifty-four Afghan civilians were killed, with Taliban and other anti- government elements blamed for 80% of those deaths.

In 2012, Taliban suicide bombers blew up a market in Kandahar province, killing 22 civilians and wounding 50 more.  The Taliban explained that civilian deaths that occurred during attacks were the result of “technical problems.”  The Taliban released a video, saying it showed the heads of 17 Pakistani soldiers captured in a raid and beheaded.  In Pakistan, a Taliban gunman shot and wounded 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai for daring to support education for girls.  (She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.)  In Afghanistan, the government claimed that the Taliban had poisoned schoolgirls by bribing others to put chemicals in the drinking water in six schools.  One school alone had 125 cases.

Summing up the situation at the end of 2012, Clinton wrote: “At the end of 2012 the door to reconciliation remained open, but only part way.”

Clinton explained that Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, had “effectively pulled the plug” on peace talks in late 2011, and “I wanted him to reconsider.”

“I tried to impart the sense of urgency I felt to get the [peace] process moving again and suggested a plan that did not require him [Karzai] to directly reach an agreement with the Taliban on opening an office. All he had to do, I said, was make a public statement supporting the idea. I would then arrange for the Emir of Qatar to invite the Taliban to move forward. The goal would be to open the office and organize a meeting between the Afghan High Peace Council and representatives of the Taliban within thirty days. If that failed to happen, the office would be closed. After much discussion, Karzai agreed.”

Clinton continued: “In June of 2013, a few months after I left the State Department, the Taliban negotiating office finally opened. But the new understanding, which had taken years to reach, collapsed in little more than a month.”

“Watching all this now as a private citizen, I am disappointed but not surprised. If making peace was easy, it would have been done long ago. “

In Afghanistan, 68 American military were killed in the first six months of 2013, as were another 23 members of the coalition forces.  One thousand three hundred nineteen Afghan civilians were killed, 75% of those deaths due to the Taliban, according to a U.N. report.

In the first six months of 2013, Taliban fighters, wearing Afghan army uniforms, stormed a courthouse in the city of Farah, Afghanistan, killing 48 people and wounding more than 90.  Civilians, judges, lawyers, and court employees were killed as the Taliban moved from room to room.

Five Americans, including a female diplomat and an Afghan doctor, were killed when their convoy was hit by a Taliban blast.  They were taking books to a school in southern Afghanistan.  A Taliban suicide bomber killed 17 people and wounded 40 others outside Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul.  Most of the victims were court employees on their way home.

Media around the world (BBC, U.K. Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Guardian) reported the allegation that in Kandahar, the Taliban had beheaded as police “spies” a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old.  The boys had been digging in a garbage bin near a police station, looking for leftover food.  According to news reports, the Taliban believed that the boys were trading information for food.  The Taliban denied the allegation.  As reported in the Telegraph (6/10/13), “[t]he Taliban frequently kill those they believe are providing information to international forces but often deny any involvement, particularly when children are involved.”  A year earlier in the same district, a 16-year-old boy, accused by the Taliban of spying for the government, was beheaded and skinned.  And a month after that, a girl aged 7 and a boy aged 12 were kidnapped and beheaded.  

Summing up her work on peace negotiations with the Taliban, Clinton wrote: “I believe that we laid down a positive foundation that might help future peace efforts.” “The benchmarks we put down could still guide the way.”

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