On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that senior representatives from the Afghan government and Taliban are engaged in high-level peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan. Past Afghan-Taliban peace talks had disintegrated, in part due to meddling from Pakistan's military intelligence service, which sabotaged the talks to force a larger role for Pakistan in future negotiations. The Guardian is now reporting that both the Afghan and U.S. governments have made contact with a particularly brutal Taliban-like insurgent group known as the Haqqani Network. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Pakistan's spy service is urging the Taliban to keep fighting. What should we make of this complicated picture? Are we seeing the beginning of Afghanistan's endgame in the peace talks, or just another destined-to-fail effort?
The Conditions for Negotiations The Associated Press's Kathy Gannon reports, "the [Taliban] insurgents have laid down three preconditions for formal negotiations — a timetable for a NATO withdrawal, release of all Taliban prisoners and a deal to drop the terrorist label which the religious movement was given after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks." The Wall Street Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov and Maria Abi-Habib report, "The Afghan government would be ready to abandon some previously announced 'red lines,' such as a demand that the Taliban recognise the Afghan constitution and lay down arms, in an attempt to kick-start substantive negotiations."
- 4 Reasons We're a Long Way from Peace The Christian Science Monitor editorial cautions, "don’t throw the confetti for the war’s end yet. The road to reconciliation is as steep and rugged as the mountains where Taliban hide." They list four reasons: (1) "There is no top Taliban to talk to. ... Not all Taliban follow [Mullah] Omar." (2) "Other countries have to be involved." That means Pakistan as well as Russia, Iran, and India. (3) "Is internal reconciliation possible?" The Taliban is theologically opposed to the secular Afghan constitution, for example. (4) "Who’s got the strength?" Right now, it looks like the Taliban do.
- Top Priority Should Be Power-Sharing Foreign Policy's Stephen Walt writes, "I think this is an encouraging sign. ... If the Karzai government, the Taliban leadership, and various members of ISAF are moving in that direction [towards a power-sharing agreement], there's a chance that the United States and its allies will get out of there sometime before 2020, and maybe some chance that Afghanistan can revert to its previous status as largely neutral and not very important strategic backwater.
- Petraeus's Blessing a Good Sign The U.K. Independent editorial says it shows the U.S. is serious. "That these talks, or talks about talks, are said to have the blessing of the US commander in the field, General David Petraeus, is another sign that the political part of an endgame might have begun. The general's appetite for talks has not been apparent in the four months since he took over the command. This, it seems, has changed."
- Is Pakistan Tired of Fomenting War? Conservative blogger Allahpundit puts that as the key question. "The one scenario I can come up with for why there might be something to this round of peace talks is that, after the floods in Pakistan and the new escalation in the border areas between jihadis attacking NATO convoys and the CIA bombarding terrorist hideouts, Pakistani intelligence might be worried about destabilization and therefore willing to see what’s on the table as far as a peace deal goes."