Leading article: Talks with the Taliban will be a condition of any endgame

Share
Related Topics

As so often with the war in Afghanistan, one statement can be open to wildly different interpretations. Thus President Hamid Karzai's disclosure that the US is engaged in talks with the Taliban was dismissed by some as more of the same old posturing. For others, it was no more than a restatement of the obvious. Yet there is something new here. It is not the fact of contact between the US and the Taliban – which has been an on-off saga of long standing – but the fact that confirmation of talks came from Mr Karzai, who has long been lukewarm, if not hostile, to the very idea.

The Afghan President's remarks to journalists in Kabul at the weekend contained several other new elements. Not only did he admit that talks had been going on, but he called them "peace talks", spoke positively of the progress made, and said that the US military was also involved. There was a new tone, as well as new information.

That there is no possibility of peace in Afghanistan unless the Taliban are included in any settlement has been widely accepted for some time. Back in 2007, a British and an Irish diplomat, working for the UN and the EU respectively, were expelled after apparently putting out feelers to Taliban representatives – perhaps more successfully than they were supposed to. The impetus for their expulsion was said to have come from US intelligence, but it could equally well have come from Mr Karzai.

After Barack Obama took over the White House in 2009, his adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke, repeatedly insisted on the need to engage the Taliban, proposing a distinction between the "moderate" majority who should be wooed, and the jihadist minority, to whom no quarter should be given. That became official US policy, but it never appeared to enjoy the full support of US commanders, who gave the impression of continuing to strive for outright victory or nothing. Hence the knots in which US Afghan policy increasingly seemed to be tied.

The death last month of Osama bin Laden, who had been tracked down to a family compound in Pakistan, changed many calculations. It strengthened Mr Obama's authority domestically, because he had achieved what his predecessor, George Bush, had tried so hard to do. It allowed the US to draw a clearer distinction between al-Qa'ida, which had now been decapitated, and the Taliban – a distinction which made talks with the Taliban more tolerable. And it clears the way for the incoming US Defence Secretary and arch-pragmatist, Leon Panetta, to put Afghan policy on a fresh footing.

Above all, though – given that Bin Laden was found sheltering in Pakistan – it called into question the rationale for foreign troops to remain much longer in Afghanistan. It increased pressure on Mr Obama to meet his provisional timetable for troop withdrawal, if not to accelerate it. And this in turn drove home the message to Mr Karzai and his failing government that the US might not be there to shore up his position indefinitely.

Suddenly, there is a prospect for the stalemate of at least three years to be broken. For talks – peace talks, even, as Mr Karzai termed them – to yield any kind of settlement, however, several conditions must be met. The first is that the US administration, including the military, can agree on the end and the means. A second is that Mr Karzai and the Afghan government sign up, and a third is that both they and the Americans talk to Taliban leaders who can deliver – not, as embarrassingly emerged earlier this year, to a shopkeeper from Quetta. None of this will be simple, but Mr Karzai's statement is the best evidence yet that a start has been made and that the endgame might finally have begun.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz