The Taliban and American scholar Barnett Rubin’s futile ‘dialogue’

Source: AFP Taliban office in Doha, Qatar.

In an open letter, that reads like a throw-up of words, the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid directly addresses American author and former diplomat Barnett Rubin. The Taliban’s response comes less than 24 hours after Rubin took the liberty to respond to their Valentine’s Day open letter to the American people.

Instead of formally responding to the Kabul Process II that was happening consequently at the same time, the Taliban responded to Rubin. In the letter published by, the Taliban wrote the following run-on sentence, “The Kabul Process and other such efforts seek surrender from the Islamic Emirate at a time when the Islamic Emirate is without a doubt a force that has defeated an international arrogant power like America with all its allies and tools at disposal.”

The Taliban have not defeated anyone, not Afghanistan’s government nor its allies. Victory can only come when one side surrenders. U.S. President Donald Trump has been very vocal about his war strategy in Afghanistan, he wants to win. NATO and the U.S. have deployed more troops to Afghanistan in the past six months. Progress is being made to defeat the Taliban. Just last week it was announced that Pakistan, the Taliban’s safe heaven, will be added to the terrorist financing watchlist.

On Wednesday, the government of Ashraf Ghani gave a desperate plea to the Taliban. Afghanistan invited the Taliban to begin dialogues. Ghani’s peace process plans include allowing the insurgency group to become a recognized political party with its own office in Kabul, if they accept peace and surrender.

The response to Ghani’s plea is in the letter the Taliban address to Rubin. The Taliban spokesperson writes “Our country has been occupied which has led to an American style supposed Afghan government being imposed upon us.” The Taliban do not see the legitimate Afghan government as their own. To Rubin, the Taliban spokesperson writes, “And your view that we talk to them [Afghan government] and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war.”

The Taliban letter mentions the Soviet invasion twice. Once in reference to the number of casualties lost in that war to justify the number being killed today and second, to explain that Afghanistan will not accept invaders. These are ironic examples for the Taliban to use against America, even though they are addressing Rubin and not America. It is important to remember that United States and the Taliban were once on the same page. The CIA actively bankrolling the Taliban in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, this is widely known, and most recently put in detail by Steve Coll in the book Directorate S.

It seems like the Taliban have missed the point of Rubin’s letter published in The New Yorker. Rubin told the Taliban, “the flaw in your call for dialogue is that it is addressed only to Americans, not your fellow Afghans.” Once again, the Taliban commit the same flaw. Instead of writing to the Afghan government publicly, they respond to an American.

Rubin retweeted on Wednesday, “We have both made our opening statements. Fine. Now how do we solve the problem?”

Nothing will come of this exchange since Rubin made it clear in his open letter that he does not represent the U.S. government. He wrote “I can answer only for myself, as an academic and former American diplomat who has been trying to understand Afghanistan’s realities for thirty-five years.”

Op-ed by Mariam Amini, a researcher and journalist. 


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