Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, was adamant that although the Taliban had been left out of Bonn, they should at least be included in the next step in forming a transitional government: a loya jirga, bringing together tribes, sub-tribes and other groups to determine the country’s way forward.
A few people close to the Taliban ideologically, but not part of the group, brought binders with their nominees’ resumes to a United Nations office where rising Afghan leaders were reviewing potential representatives. But some of the potential representatives were dismissed as terrorists and later detained, and one was shipped to the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, where he spent more than six years even though he had never supported the Taliban, Mr. Rubin said.
“A number of Afghans with the Taliban offered to surrender and, when they did, we put them in prison, in Bagram and Guantánamo, and there was never any discussion if that was a good idea,” recalled Mr. Dobbins, who worked with the transitional Afghan government.
At the time, he said, “I was dismissive of the idea that the Taliban would ever be a factor in postwar Afghanistan. I thought they had been so beaten and brushed aside that they would never come back.”
Looking back, he said: “I should have known. But what we didn’t understand, didn’t pick up on for five years, was that Pakistan had abandoned the Taliban government, but had not abandoned the Taliban. That was a critical distinction. So they could re-recruit, re-fund, re-train and project themselves back into Afghanistan. That was a major missed opportunity.”
While it is not clear that a deal with the Taliban in 2001 would have been possible — or that the Taliban would have kept their word — some former diplomats say that by repeatedly shutting the door to talks, the United States may have closed off its best chance of avoiding a prolonged and extremely costly war.