It would be premature to draw any conclusions about today’s threatened expulsion of a British and an Irish diplomat from Afghanistan, and the Telegraph’s claims that MI6 have been negotiating with the Taliban.
The latter story is, however, plausible. MI6 have a long history of involvement in back-channel negotiations, which has often caused friction with more hawkish (or less subtle) elements in the secret state.
The value of such contacts was the subject of an intriguing debate in the pages of Prospect magazine last year. Arguing in favour was Alistair Crooke of Conflicts Forum, a former MI6 officer who served in Afghanistan and later became an EU advisor in the Middle East. Arguing against was Dean Godson of Policy Exchange, a former Telegraph leader writer and leading neoconservative advocate of ‘political warfare’.
I wonder whether a similar realist/neoconservative faultline doesn’t underlie the Telegraph’s story.
The diplomatic expusions may indeed be a misunderstanding, but it’s worth noting that the Irish official involved has also worked for the British Government:
LAHORE: The Taliban had completely lost support among the people of
Afghanistan before they were overthrown by a US-led coalition,
according to Michael Semple, the human rights advisor to the British
High Commission in Islamabad. (Daily Times, Pakistan, 13 March 2003)
JONATHAN HARLEY: Michael Semple began working in Afghanistan in the
mid-1980s, after answering an ad in the paper in the UK. Now
coordinating relief to the troubled central region of Hazadhijaf for
the United Nations, is one of the most experienced and respected
workers in the country. And he’s come to accept one essential truth. (ABC Australia, 27 April, 2001)
I’ll be interesting to see what the Irish Government has to say about the episode.
Update: The Guardian reports that Semple is employed by the office of Javier Solana, the same EU official who employed Alistair Crooke to mediate with Hamas.