Michael Semple Interviews Taliban Commander

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taliban fighters stand with their weapons. (AFP/Getty Images)

In a rare exchange, former diplomat Michael Semple interviewed a veteran leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and learned about the organization's plans for the country after the United States withdraws from the country in 2014. The interview will run in full in the British political magazine, New Statesman. 

While the identity of the Taliban commander is never revealed, Semple describes the man as "one of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and a confidant of the movement’s leadership." According to the commander, the Taliban does not plan on negotiating with the Afghan government or attempting to take over the government — instead they hope, according the commander, to slowly become a leading faction in the country. When it comes to their foreign policy, Semple paraphrases, "You cannot be human and refuse to recognize others. The Taliban have no fundamental disagreement with the international community."

"I think that we learned from it that there is a fascinating political process going on inside the Taliban movement, and the outcome of the Taliban's internal politics will help to shape the future direction of Afghanistan," Semple says. The main tension lies between a faction that believes that the Taliban can secure a monopoly of force and authority over the country, and a more senior group that Semple calls the "pragmatists." This faction maintains that the restoration of a Taliban government would not be possible without plunging the nation into civil war. 

"[These pragmatic Taliban leaders] believe they do not have the strength to take over the whole of Afghanistan again, [and] believe it would be a mistake for them to repeat the past in terms of sustaining and developing their relationship with al-Qaeda, and therefore see the necessity to make an accommodation with other Afghan political forces, and also to reach some kind of understanding with the United States and the international community," Semple says. This bloc of pragmatists do not hold full control of the Taliban, so whether or not accommodation will happen remains to be seen. 

The official position of the Taliban in regards to the Afghani government, headed by president Hamid Kharzai, is uncompromising in its hostility. However, Semple believes that the peace process and increased talks may lead to some sort of compromise between the two entities. "I believe that all bets are off," Semple says. "If it does go to a political process amongst Afghans, then over time the Taliban are going to have to work out which are the political forces inside Afghanistan, and when they come to do that practically, they're going to find that until they deal with the Afghan government, they're not going to get anywhere." 

Ryan Crocker, the outgoing American ambassador to Afghanistan, says that there are hopeful signs that the conflict in the nation will turn away from the battlefields and towards forums of debate. "Politics is breaking out all over," he said. "You don't see many signs of the people saying 'Well, it's time to start digging the trenches again.'"


Michael Semple

Produced by:

Robert Balint, Arwa Gunja and Elizabeth Ross

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