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Taliban reveals political strategy for first time

By Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 5:29 PM EST, Tue February 14, 2012
  • Taliban wants to sideline Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai
  • U.S. appears to be sidelining Pakistan
  • Taliban reveals political strategy that indicates it could be thinking of its future role in the country
  • U.S. wants a base in Afghanistan where it is not forever fighting the Taliban

(CNN) -- CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson explains that when the Taliban admitted to having talks with U.S. officials, it also showed, for the first time, the group's political strategy and how Taliban leaders might be hoping to get a better deal from the negotiating table than they can hope for from the battlefield.

Why are the Taliban admitting to talks now?

It has taken them some time to answer CNN so they have given some consideration to our questions. It seems they want to show they are proceeding and that they are talking with the Americans.

In context they clearly want to send a signal to President Hamid Karzai. The message to Karzai is they consider him politically irrelevant, a stooge of the foreign powers. They recognize that he is in his final term and cannot be re-elected.

If they are looking forward to post-2014 then they are looking forward perhaps politically to where they have a bigger stake in the future of the country.

How does this play into regional relations?

Afghanistan is intrinsically linked to Pakistan. Pakistan wants to have influence and a voice.

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What appears to be happening is that the U.S. is not waiting for Pakistan to decide how it wants to proceed. The U.S. is essentially sidelining Pakistan and moving ahead on its own, though possibly still with a little Pakistan support.

And the Taliban is showing some political acumen. If they deal with Karzai it empowers him in the future. By cutting him out now, it cuts out a political rival.

We are seeing the Taliban's political strategy emerge and it's the first time we have seen that.

Whether or not the U.S. will go along with that -- and they have said peace talks must be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process -- remains to be seen.

What are both sides hoping for?

Both Mullah Omar and President Barack Obama have authorized their representatives to meet and talk.

The United States wants an honorable way out of Afghanistan; to show some stability as they draw down troops, which they will do almost regardless of conditions, and there will be a changeover to Afghan-led security.

It also recognizes from the U.S point of view that they consider Afghanistan to be a strategic base for the future where they would look to maintain airstrips and possibly some special forces capability.

Unless they can deal with the Taliban they will always be fighting a rearguard action against it and it will be very difficult to maintain those bases.

From the Taliban perspective they recognize they probably cannot gain on the battlefield everything they gained in the past when they had more than 90 percent of the country.

That was won with money from Pakistan and Mullah Omar is no longer trusted by Pakistan and he won't get that kind of funding again.

The northern political groups in Afghanistan -- the Taliban's ethnic enemies -- are also now in a different position. They are much better armed, equipped, trained and richer than they were when the Taliban was fighting them and winning.

That's because the U.S., when it entered Afghanistan, went in with the help of those northern groups and those groups benefited financially and militarily.

The bottom line for the Taliban is they may have realized they can get more by making a deal at the negotiating table than they can by waiting for U.S. forces to leave and then trying to take ground militarily.

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