Suddenly, Taliban is sought-after

For years "talking to the Taliban" was anathema, but now the situation has changed drastically, an Arabic-language editorial notes. Other topics: Israeli settlements and the battle for Syria.

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Taliban, once a pariah group, now finds itself being courted by the US and by Gulf mediators

Ten years into its occupation of Afghanistan, the United States is clearly beginning to accept the idea of defeat, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial yesterday.

It seems that the US is more prepared than ever to make some serious concessions to the Taliban - concessions that were unimaginable a few years ago.

In fact, it is not ruled out that Washington may be looking to hand over the reins of power to the group which it had long labelled as a "terrorist organisation."

France, an important Nato ally for the US, poured "a lot of salt on Washington's bleeding wound in Afghanistan," the newspaper said, when President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this month that his country was preparing an early withdrawal from Afghanistan, following the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan serviceman.

Mr Sarkozy later pushed back that withdrawal decision until the end of this year, perhaps only after receiving positive information that a deal between the Taliban and the US was imminent, and could involve an early withdrawal timeline.

"The Taliban are being mollycoddled these days," the newspaper argued.

Parallel to Washington's indulgence, there is also currently an understated competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia to host a Taliban office in their respective capitals.

"After leaked reports showed that the US administration was in favour of a Taliban office being opened in Doha for the purposes of US-Taliban talks, Saudi Arabia joined the fray … and expressed its readiness to host a Taliban office as well," the paper went on.

Saudi Arabia was one of two Arab states - the other being the UAE - that recognised the Taliban government in Kabul after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1989.

Riyadh also provided Taliban "mujahideen" (holy fighters) with financial and military backing during their struggle to expel the Soviets, the paper said.

Some deny that there is any such competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, pointing to the strong ties between the two countries as members of the GCC, and their joint stances on the region's hot issues such as Yemen, Libya and, more recently, Syria.

Either way, the Taliban movement is being engaged in a new way. "Until recently, it was a 'terrorist' organisation, vilified by the US and its Gulf allies. Now it is playing coquette as everybody is seeking to gain favour with it."

The Taliban is a "resistance" movement, the paper declared, and it is slowly achieving its legitimate objectives in defending Afghanistan against "a virulent US-western occupation."

"The Americans invaded the country to bring down Taliban rule; ten years later, they are hoping the group will warm up to them."

The battle for Syria enters a new phase

The Arab initiative toward Syria, in its first formula as approved by Bashar Al Assad's regime, is over, columnist Satea Noureddine said in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

The new formula requires the departure of the president, which makes the chances of its acceptance all the more unlikely, the writer went on.

"Down went the idea of monitoring, follow-up and accountability leading to reconciliation, pluralism and democracy. All this was replaced by the idea of toppling the regime with all the means available," he said.

The fight for Syria is waged against Iran, with Turkey and away from Israel. Arab cover is required to drive out the Iranians without calling on the Turks or provoking the Israelis, he added.

The decision to resort to the UN Security Council isn't the Arab League's only option, but its importance lies in the fact that it heralds an open confrontation between the Arabs on one hand and the Russians and the Chinese, who have been unwavering in their support for the Damascus regime, on the other hand.

The face-off with Russia and China is the title of the new chapter in the fight for Syria. It provides the regime with new ammunition to shoot at its people while fighting off the "external conspiracy".

"The battle for Syria enters a new phase more dangerous than anything the country has seen before, in which the only victims would be the Syrian citizens."

Israelis just keep on building settlements

Just as Jordan is witnessing exploratory talks aimed at reanimating the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Tel Aviv has announced plans to build new settlements in Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem, the Dubai paper Al Bayan said in its editorial.

The announcement reminds us that the settlements grew by 20 per cent last year under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasising Israel's unwillingness to breathe life into peace negotiations.

Israel's racist policies compel it to focus exclusively on its own interests, notwithstanding any repercussions. The international community should "confront and rein in Israel's racist activities for they will only fuel anger and add to the intensity of the crisis," said the paper.

But Washington is currently preoccupied with the presidential election race in which many candidates find profit in undermining the Palestinians and seek Israel's approval. Nonetheless, the US is still responsible for resolving conflicts and preserving international security, including security in the Middle East.

Therefore, the US must encourage its strategic ally to immediately cease its settlement actions.

The Arab League too, despite the many issues it is dealing with at the moment, must not forsake its role in the Palestinian cause.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk