One quote, attributed to a senior Taliban commander, identified by Semple as “Mawlvi,” has attracted the most attention:
“It is in the nature of war that both sides dream of victory. But the balance of power in the Afghan conflict is obvious. It would take some kind of divine intervention for the Taliban to win this war. The Taliban capturing Kabul is a very distant prospect. Any Taliban leader expecting to be able to capture Kabul is making a grave mistake. Nevertheless, the leadership also knows that it cannot afford to acknowledge this weakness. To do so would undermine the morale of Taliban personnel. The leadership knows the truth – that they cannot prevail over the power they confront.”
This is a remarkable statement, a rare sign of doubt or realism from a group that is generally given to boasting.
Knowing Semple, I am certain that the person he is quoting is who Semple says he is, a senior Taliban commander, and probably a man with considerable influence. It is entirely likely that this commander represents a significant faction of opinion within the Taliban, a group that may be persuaded that their best course of action in furthering their political goals would be to lay down their weapons, start talking with the Karzai government, and reintegrate into Afghan politics.
Yet one of the challenges that both the Americans and Afghan governments have faced is the problem of knowing who they are dealing with. When the Obama administration announced this year that it would be willing to open talks with the Taliban, and the emirate of Qatar agreed to allow the Taliban to open an office in Doha, it was with the understanding that a certain number of known Taliban leaders would represent the organization. Some Taliban leaders welcomed the idea of talks, while others publicly denied talking with the Americans.