Talking, Not Politicking With the Taliban?

The Washington Post reported yesterday that high level negotiations have been picking up between the Obama administration and the Taliban.

The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July.

A senior Afghan official said a U.S. representative attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as “eight or nine days ago,” with a Taliban official considered close to Mohammad Omar, the group’s leader.

Underlying these negotiations is the sad irony that any success will be determined by “provid[ing] what the Taliban considers an acceptable share of political power in Afghanistan.” Obama’s surge in Afghanistan rested on a foundation of ridding Afghanistan of such extremists as the Taliban and upholding the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. Now, after all this fighting and wasted blood and treasure, they want to cede some control to the Taliban. This is a fine thing insofar as it leads to an end to the war, but if that will be the final result of these negotiations, why couldn’t they have taken place years ago?

Another factor to consider is what Paul Pillar at the National Interest writes about negotiations:

U.S. policymakers seem to realize that negotiation will have to be part of any reasonably respectable conclusion to the U.S. military expedition in Afghanistan. They have repeatedly said as much. But even many who accept that reality insert a caveat about timing. Negotiations, yes, they say—but only after further coalition military operations have softened up the Taliban, so the Taliban will be more pliable in the subsequent bargaining.

…We usually view it as highly asymmetric. We see military setbacks to our side as the occasion for redoubling our effort to turn the war in our favor, but see military setbacks to the adversary as a reason he ought to be suing for peace. We believe we ought to persevere until we have achieved a clear military advantage, but we do not expect the adversary to persevere with a similar objective in mind.

These talks can only be successful if the aim of both parties is to end the war, not to appear as the victor, to play politics, or to save face.

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