Dia Rashwan, the noted Egyptian Al-Qaeda analyst, said at a recent conference in Cairo that the Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban. The potential deal: The Taliban turns over Ayman Zawahiri in exchange for Taliban participation in the political process and an end to the war with the government. The negotiations are being carried out under Saudi oversight and the US wants them to end before Bush leaves giving him a victory in the war against terrorism.
Source here is Al-Dostor (10/24, p4) which apparently does not get the concept of putting today’s news on the net the day it comes out. IslamOnline also has good coverage of the conference and notes that Rashwan could see the Taliban sacrificing Zawahiri but not Bin Laden because that relationship is deeper:
ويقول رشوان: باعتقادي أن طالبان من الممكن أن تضحي بالظواهري لكنها لن تضحي ببن لادن لعلاقته الوثيقة بطالبان
As for the source- remember this is not AHMED CAFE CHAIR. Dia Rashwan is one of the most respected Arab commentators on Al-Qaeda and is often cited by Western researchers.
If the US were able to pull this off, it would be a tremendous coup and should take the deal in a second.
As I’ve said all along, the Taliban is not_a_natural_and_permanent enemy of the US. They are an unsophisticated group of local Afghan Islamists who care first and foremost about local Afghan rule. Afghanistan is only a threat to the US when it is ungoverned, allowing Arab fanatics (Al-Qaeda) to use it as a base to plan operations against the US. Mullah Omar was willing to discuss turning over Bin Laden in the late 1990s. Only after 9/11 did the Taliban become_an_enemy of the US. A Taliban that turns on Al-Qaeda is not an enemy of the US, and if they are the only force that is capable of effectively governing Afghanistan than so be it.
Secondly, to the extent that AQ is a central organization (which is doubtful) Zawahiri and not Bin Laden is the guy that makes things happen. So if he were turned over it would be a serious blow to the organization’s operational capacity, not to mention a major PR victory for the US.