The former top United Nations official in Afghanistan said that recent arrests of high-ranking Taliban figures by Pakistan have severed important secret communications between the Taliban and the West, possibly delaying peace negotiations and making them more difficult.
Kai Eide, the former special representative for the United Nations secretary general, told the BBC in an interview that, for the past year, the United Nations had been quietly involved in early discussions with Taliban figures in Dubai.
He said those talks were upended by the February arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 commander, in Karachi by the Pakistanis.
Since then, at least four other senior Taliban figures have been reported to have been detained by the Pakistanis, including two shadow governors.
The Taliban had appointed shadow governors in all but one province, who directed Taliban policy and activities such as local courts.
The initial communications between the Taliban and the United Nations were “talks about talks,” Eide told the BBC in the interview from Norway.
He said it would take months to build trust with the Taliban.
Other interlocutors have been working as well, including Saudi Arabia, which has hosted some high-level negotiations, according to senior figures in President Hamid Karzai’s government.
There is a growing consensus among officials from the United Nations and Western European countries that ending the war in Afghanistan will require internationally supported negotiations with the Taliban.
But Eide, who stepped down earlier this month, said the effect of the arrests “was negative on our possibilities to continue the political process that we saw as so necessary at that particular juncture.”
“The Pakistanis did not play the role that they should have played,” he said in the interview. “They must have known who they were, what kind of role they were playing, and you see the result today.”
Western European countries are pushing hard for a negotiated settlement, essentially pulling in a different direction from the United States, which is ramping up military pressure on insurgents with campaigns across southern Afghanistan planned for much of the summer. The American approach seeks to weaken the Taliban movement militarily so they are in a weakened position when they come to the bargaining table.
Western diplomats in Kabul said the involvement of Afghanistan’s neighbours will be also be critical, especially the roles played by Pakistan, Iran and India, which have enormous clout here.
The role of the United States is crucial as well because it may be the only country with the power to push such a deal forward.