Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the Taliban would be opening a political office in Qatar [EPA]
Once upon a time they favoured Dubai -- their smuggling Mecca. Now the Taliban go-to destination of choice will be Doha.
So the Taliban will open a political office in Qatar to be engaged in negotiations "with the international community," according to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai wanted the office to be either in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration applied some screws -- Karzai had to accept Qatar. So much for the "sovereignty" of the man informally known as the mayor of Kabul.
The Doha operation was strictly a US, German, Qatari and Taliban "representatives" affair. Doha was specifically picked by the Obama administration. The concept of a reward was clear -- as in Qatar's solid, unconditional partnership with NATO, which, by the way, is spectacularly losing a war in Afghanistan.
In a crucial electoral year, the White House now expects to accumulate some extra foreign policy dividends by enticing the Taliban to the table (a lavish Kabuli rice banquet at the Ritz-Carlton, perhaps?) But what's the real story behind the spin?
Stuff those drones, buddy
As in all things AfPak, wishful thinking remains the law of the land. Washington has been abuzz with "secret discussions between US and Taliban officials."
Not so secret after all. Washington wanted the Taliban to renounce
all weaponry. The Taliban said "no." Washington wanted the Taliban to
renounce any links to al-Qaeda -- and in this case Taliban prisoners
would be released from Guantanamo. The Taliban said "let's talk."
Wishful thinking also pervades the notion that the political office in Doha will somewhat isolate Pakistan from the Taliban leadership. Mullah Omar, as every grain of sand in the Balochi deserts know, lives in Quetta, undisturbed by ubiquitous US surveillance.
Even though Islamabad was not consulted about the Doha office, Washington assumes the Pakistani ISI is not monitoring each one of these steps -- as it keeps monitoring its ironclad Taliban connections.
Predictably, Tehran was also snubbed by Washington. The architects of the Doha strategy must have been mesmerised by Tom Cruise escalating Burj Dubai in the latest installment of Mission Impossible to believe both Pakistan and Iran could be sidelined of any meaningful Afghanistan endgame.
Moscow -- also not consulted -- is not buying the Doha strategy. The same goes for Beijing -- as in this piece quoting Afghan analysts. And with US-Pakistan relations reaching new abysmal lows over repeated Washington blunders, Pakistani military spokesman General Athar Abbas has already set the new groove; "From here on in we want a very formal, business-like relationship.
"The lines will be drawn. There will be no more of the free run of the past, no more interpretation of rules. We want it very formal with agreed upon limits."
Translation; Washington can kiss its "signature strike" drone war over the tribal areas goodbye.
Then enter the current visit to China of Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq
Kayani -- who until virtually yesterday was a Pentagon darling. That
points to Beijing and Islamabad/Rawalpindi intimately connecting their
strategy in relation to further developments in Doha.