By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2012 – An envoy who is one of the few U.S. officials to ever meet with Taliban representatives shared his perspective on two years of effort to open a channel with them, and on the challenges that lie ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Marc Grossman, a State Department employee who was appointed as the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, described his past interaction with the Taliban during a televised PBS interview with Margaret Warner that aired yesterday. Communicating with the Taliban was “very productive and very difficult,” he said, but necessary in saving lives.
Grossman, who leaves his post this week, described how he prepared for his first encounter with Taliban representatives.
“I read a lot by people who had been in similar situations in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Colombia,” Grossman said. “And everybody talked about how difficult it was to both fight and talk at the same time.”
But the conclusion, he added, was the same in each case.
“If you stick with this, if you believe in it, if you can find someone on the other side to talk to, and you’re successful, less people die,” he said.
Grossman said in general the challenges of building relations pale in comparison to the possibilities: in this case, the prospect of opening doors for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of their nation.
The envoy said he and other U.S. representatives sought to build confidence between the two sides, to pave the way for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“The first job was to see if … [we could] create a regional structure for a secure, stable, prosperous Afghanistan inside of a secure, stable, prosperous region,” Grossman said. “We set out to do that through various series of international meetings [in] Istanbul, Bonn, Chicago and Tokyo, so that Afghans could feel confident that the region would stand behind them.”
Grossman said Pakistan’s support of the Afghan peace process indicates a noteworthy change over the past year.
“A year ago, there was no way … systematically, to have Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States talk to one another about peace,” he said.
Since then, Grossman said, Pakistan, Afghan and U.S. representatives have met several times in an effort to build relations.
“[The Pakistanis] … know that chaos in Afghanistan is bad for them,” Grossman said. “They know also that 2014 … [is] not 20 years from now, it’s not 10 years from now. In diplomatic terms, it’s tomorrow.”
The U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, signed by President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul last spring, outlines a peace process that seems to have increasing Pakistani support, he said.
In a statement following the signing, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the agreement “affirms the long-term commitment of the United States to Afghanistan,” and is a sign of U.S. confidence that “[t]he transition to Afghan security lead has commenced and it is on track.”
Grossman acknowledged the agreement calls for U.S. troops to end their combat role by the end of 2014, but said some American service members will remain in Afghanistan beyond Jan. 1, 2015. The president will decide the exact number, he noted, and combat operations are only a part of the overall mission.
“This is about also a civilian presence, an economic presence,” he said.