The recent two-day intra-Afghan meeting in Chantilly, France created an overoptimistic buzz in international and Afghan media analysis. Many think it is an icebreaker for talks and reconciliation. However, official views of the Taliban presented through their authorized representatives Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar and Naeem Wardak provided nothing new from what they regularly propagate in media statements. They rejected possibility of any talks with the Afghan Government as long as foreign troops remain in the country.
In a five-point outline of their agenda presented at the meeting, they said the current "constitution is illegitimate because it is written under the shadows of B-52 aircrafts [reference to the US invasion]". They demanded a new constitution be written by Afghan in "free atmosphere", read it full withdrawal of foreign troops.
And the new constitution should be based on "principles of noble Islam, national interest and historical achievements." They rejected the 2014 elections before full withdrawal of the US/NATO troops. While counting 'achievements' of the Emirate's rule before 2001 they said, "We are not looking to monopolize power. We want an all Afghan inclusive government."
We could believe if it was true under their rule. They accuse the US of plotting division among factions of Afghan society, but it was the Taliban against everyone else in the 90s which took the country to brink of disintegration, and sowed the kind of distrust and polarization among ethnic groups that we never had before in history of Afghanistan.
Yes, they did bring peace, but a graveyard peace after killing all opponents or forcing them out of the country. They added, "He [Mullah Omar] respects his political rivals, expounds on realization and understanding and asks for help from them in defense of our nation and honor, this clearly displays his goodwill and political insight."
In the outline of 'how can enduring peace be achieved in Afghanistan', referring to Americans, the Taliban representatives said, "On the one hand they say that peace must be achieved an on the other, they add new people to the black list; they say that they will leave Afghanistan but sign strategic pacts in false hopes of prolonging their occupation.
They are doing this despite being well informed that the Kabul administration can never represent the Afghan people but still bargain with them on the future of the Afghan nation." They added that the Karzai Administration does not have a framework for peace. In this regard, Taliban's position sums it up: "The occupation must be ended as a first step. Everyone is aware that members of Islamic Emirate, for their independent Islamic and national policy, have not only tasted torture and martyrdom inside their internal prisons but have also been victims of such behavior in prisons outside the country. So can men of such determination and ideology ever become slaves of others?"
Interestingly, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef was also at the Chantilly meeting. He is reportedly part of the Taliban team in Qatar. However, he was present in individual capacity, not as official Taliban representative. It could be their strategy to say the non-rhetoric. Mullah Zaeef suggested establishment of a commission comprised of all sides, intra-Afghan, to discuss change in constitution during 2013.
To sum it up, there was nothing new at Chantilly to be optimistic about. Taliban reiterated that President Karzai is Mr. Nobody and the US/NATO must withdraw all troops. Not a single word about ending ties with Al-Qaeda and other international or regional terrorist groups.
They say Taliban had brought 'peace' and the US invasion 'disrupted' it. One should tell them that the US and NATO came to Afghanistan because the Islamic Emirate had made Afghanistan hub of international terrorism hosting Al-Qaeda who carried 9/11, and other regional groups with links from India, China to Central Asia and Russia. To Afghans, the entire responsibility of the US invasion goes to the Taliban, albeit for majority it was a blessing of God to get rid of the forces of darkness and evil.
Because of the Taliban, Afghanistan is known to the world as a place of conflict and extremism. And Afghans traveling in any part of the world are suspected of terrorism and face discrimination for God knows how many generations to come. Taliban would not like to believe it, but majority of Afghans represented by the opposition groups and Karzai Administration support continued presence of foreign troops beyond 2014.
The only progress in Chantilly process, of which it was the third such conference, has been Taliban's public admission of the reality that they need to talk to the opposition groups from former Northern Alliance.
There are also reports that there is a growing rift among the top leadership of Taliban.
After Mullah Omar's second-in-command, Baradar was arrested by Pakistan, there has been rivalry for his replacement, particularly between Abdul Qayoom Zakir and Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor. Reportedly, their envoy for the Qatar office, Tayed Agha has also resigned and he is replaced by Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, who attended the Chantilly meeting. The internal fight among top leaders could split the Taliban in coming months. I am still skeptical of an eventual political settlement or deal that includes all insurgents, and acceptable to the international community, Kabul Government and the opposition groups.