Arif Ayub Nearly everyone writing on Afghanistan has suggested that negotiations are necessary with the 'good or 'reconcilable Taliban in order for the US to extricate themselves from the Afghan morass. However, this advice is not as easy as it sounds, since the medieval mindset of the extremist Taliban who control the movement is not conducive or amenable to diplomacy or compromise. A great deal of patience would therefore be required if a negotiated settlement is sought. Pakistan obtained first hand experience of this problem as soon as the Taliban took over in Kandahar. A delegation headed by the Foreign Secretary, Najamuddin Sheikh called on Mullah Omar to advise him on human rights, particularly rights of women, education, reconciliation with the other ethnic groups, in Afghanistan and the need to maintain distance from the Arab 'terrorists. The negotiations turned out to be quite one-sided as Mullah Omar wrapped himself in his chaddar and was silent throughout the meeting, contenting himself by noting that all the issues raised would have to be discussed in the Shura before any decision could be taken. This was basically the equivalent of referring issues to a committee since nothing more was heard on the subject. Before leaving Kandahar the issues were again discussed with the senior members of the Shura who provided the insight that the Holy Quran was the only book required for Muslims and no other knowledge was necessary. On being asked how they intended to train doctors, particularly lady doctors given their severe restrictions on segregation of women they gave the practical but not a very encouraging reply that they would depend on Pakistan. Since this was the first formal meeting with the Taliban. We asked our mission in Kandahar for a feedback on our visit. Therefore, the council reported that the Taliban were mentioning that they had received a delegation of 'Englishmen from Islamabad but had failed to understand the message we had tried to convey. This was the basic difference in world views which it was never possible to bridge. The Taliban were mired in their conviction of returning Afghanistan to what they considered the Golden Age of Islam, 1400 years ago, while our effort was to try and alert them about the requirements of this century and the need to interact with the international community. In this contest between ideology and pragmatism the extremists won hands down. While not averse to making short-term concessions which helped their military strategy, the Taliban were not prepared to adjust their basic ideology to present day conditions. Thus, they were not averse to taking aircraft batteries from General Dostum and making a deal with General Malik in Mazar-i-Sharif but these agreements were torn up as soon as the Taliban objectives were achieved. My next interaction with the Taliban was to be on my posting from Rome to Kabul and before leaving I called on the Saudi Ambassador in Rome, who was a member of the royal family, to seek his assistance in dealing with the Taliban. The ambassador said: Some people were too stupid to help. I asked for the background to the Saudi perception about the Taliban and was informed that the Saudi Intelligence Chief Turki Al-Faisal had asked the Taliban to return Osama bin Laden, and was told by Mullah Omar that the request would be discussed in their Shura. The Saudis took this to be a favourable response and on the next visit the intelligence chief was surprised when Mullah Omar refused his request. When Turki persisted, Mullah Omar went outside and poured a bucket of water over his head and returned to the meeting sufficiently cooled down to launch into a diatribe against the Saudi royal family. At Kandahar Airport, the Taliban ambassador who had accompanied Turki in his aircraft asked him if he was being sacked immediately or could travel back to Riyadh to pack his bags. Turki laughed and allowed him aboard. It was with considerable trepidation therefore that I presented my credentials to Mullah Omar as my brief was to obtain the expulsion of Arab and Sunni 'terrorists from Afghanistan. While waiting for the Amirul Momineen I mentioned to the staff officer that they should correct the spelling of the 'wellcome frame which was hanging in their office. He was considerably piqued by this suggestion and questioned my knowledge of English saying that in their madrassah outside Quetta this was the correct spelling of welcome (on the way back to Quetta, I saw the Talib was right). I mentioned to my staff if we were having difficulty changing one 'L we could not hope for anything on more substantive issues. Anyway, after the preliminary courtesies I started with the brief on terrorism. Mullah Omar who so far was trying his best to ignore me by keeping me on his blind side, finally decided to stare at me with his good eye. After the glaring had gone on for two minutes, keeping Turkis experience in mind I decided it would be prudent to move on to other less controversial bilateral issues and escaped unscathed from the meeting. However, this impasse over terrorism would continue to be a major stumbling block in bilateral relations over the next one year in Kabul. The only time there was some response from the Taliban was during the visit of the Interior Minister Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider for the Joint Ministerial Committee meeting. This was the only time Mullah Omar entered into a dialogue and told General Haider that he would ensure that the 'terrorists would not create any problems for anyone as long they were 'guests in Afghanistan. While soon this promise was overtaken by events it exhibited the need for the considerable patience and tact required dealing with the Taliban. An additional problem was the control over policy exercised by the extremists amongst the Taliban. In Kabul the ministers who were interacting with the international community were always easier to deal with but most of their decisions would be overruled by the theocracy ruling in Kandahar. These factors still maintain their relevance as the insurgency enters its eighth year in Afghanistan. The writer is a former ambassador.