The Cable

Clinton: Taliban more likely to negotiate after bin Laden death

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that Osama bin Laden's death could advance the effort to reach a political resolution to the war in Afghanistan, because it might convince the Taliban and al Qaeda to come to the negotiating table.

"In Afghanistan, we have to continue to take the fight to al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. Perhaps now they will take seriously the work that we are doing on trying to have some reconciliation process that resolves the insurgency," Clinton said on Wednesday to a conference of editorial writers at the State Department. "So our message to the Taliban hasn't changed; it just has even greater resonance today. They can't wait us out, they can't defeat us; they need to come into the political process and denounce al Qaeda and renounce violence and agree to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan."

Clinton said that bin Laden's death would make al Qaeda and the Taliban more likely to strike a deal in Afghanistan because they will have no grand leader to rally around.

"Well, a lot of people say, well, [bin Laden's deputy Ayman] al-Zawahiri will step into it. But that's not so clear. He doesn't have the same sense of loyalty or inspiration or track record," she said. "I mean, bin Laden was viewed as a military warrior. He had fought in Afghanistan. He wasn't an intellectual. He wasn't just a talker. He had been a fighter, so he carried with him a quite significant mystique."

"The Taliban did not give up al Qaeda when President Bush asked them to after 9/11, because of Mullah Omar's personal relationship with bin Laden. That's gone, so I think it opens up possibilities for dealing with the Taliban that did not exist before."

At least one Pakistani Taliban group, Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), has already said that it is planning to increase attacks in the wake of bin Laden's death -- and will not come to the negotiating table. "Now Pakistani rulers, President Asif Ali Zardari and the army will be our first targets. America will be our second target," TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said on Tuesday.

And Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf party said on Tuesday that the United States has transformed bin Laden into a martyr.

"For all these people who think the U.S. is not fighting terrorism but fighting Islam, [bin Laden] will become a holy warrior and an inspiration for legions of jihadis. All it will do is increase extremism," he said.

But Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the Afghan Taliban, namely the Quetta al Shura, might be more amenable to negotiations than the Pakistani Taliban, because they are the ones getting hammered by U.S. forces and are suspected to be internally divided over whether or not to maintain their alliance with al Qaeda.

Quetta al Shura's only statement on bin Laden's death so far was to express doubt that he was really killed.

"Negotiating with the Quetta al Shura Taliban is easier without the personal commitment of Mullah Omar to Osama bin Laden as a constraint. The only question is how much easier. I'm inclined to think there are a lot more barriers than just this," Biddle said.

"There has been plenty of speculation that the field command in Afghanistan and the high command in Pakistan have been experiencing deepening schsms."

Clinton also said that the administration would try to use the bin Laden death to make the case that now is not the time to cut funding for diplomacy and development at the State Department and USAID.

"We're going to be working to bolster our partnerships even now, particularly as people are digesting this news. We're going to look for ways to put this into the context of the larger debate we're having here at home about what it takes to stay engaged in the world," she said.

Clinton argued that the Obama administration's increased funding for State and USAID helped in the mission to find and kill bin Laden, although she didn't give any details on how State was involved in the overall mission to find and kill bin Laden.

"Our tools were so much better [than in the previous administration] and our relationships had evolved in a way that enabled us to obtain information that was actionable. So it takes funding and it takes resources, and it takes having those person-to-person connections that really make a difference," she said.

Asked about how the killing of bin Laden would impact the wave of democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world, Clinton said the final impact was unpredictable but that the United States could influence how the region digests the news.

"Up until now, the Middle East and North Africa have been very focused internally, what were they going to do in Egypt to navigate their revolution, what was finally going to happen in the other places," she said. "This is an event that breaks through that, but which way it breaks is not clear yet.  If we can keep the emphasis on his extremist ideology, his use of violence is not what brought about the Arab spring, I think we can begin to shape how people think about it."

AFP/Getty Images

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