by Patrick Appel

Emily Hager reports on a speech by Ahmed Rashid, who Tom Ricks calls "the single best journalist on the Afghan war and on Pakistan as well":

Given the pressure to end the war coming from Western countries, Rashid believes a true defeat of the Taliban will be impossible -- so he stressed that efforts towards serious negotiation should begin now. The key partners, he said, can only be the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Why would the Taliban go for a negotiated solution, with the Western withdrawal date practically set on the calendar? First, Rashid said, the Taliban is tired. They are using forced conscription when they go into some villages in Afghanistan -- a sure sign of recruitment troubles. Second, unlike the Soviets, Western forces will not abandon Afghanistan in one day. As long as there are some Western forces in the cities, the Taliban will never take them because NATO firepower is so overwhelming. That means a military takeover by the Taliban would still be far off, even if Western forces began to withdraw. Third, the Taliban has been dependent on -- and manipulated by -- Afghanistan's neighboring countries for years. Rashid believes the Talibans are getting tired of what he called those countries' "micromanagement." By heading to the negotiating table, the Taliban might get a chance to put their demands first.

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