Contacts and discussions with the Taliban are now focused on setting up
future negotiations, says Weinbaum, a regional specialist at
Washington's Middle East Institute think tank. "What is absent here is any discussion about the substance. All of this
discussion now which is going on is all facilitation. How can we bring
the two together?" Weinbaum says. "And there is no attention being given
to whether there are the ingredients for reaching any kind of mutual
accommodation over the next two years."
Does the Taliban Want to Talk?
The idea of a political reconciliation with the Taliban gained traction
soon after U.S. President Barack Obama announced a major surge of troops
in 2009. In 2010, international donors pledged some $140 million to
help reintegrate rebel foot soldiers into society. Late that year,
Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed dozens of notable Afghans to a
High Peace Council to entice more moderate Taliban leaders to drop their
weapons and work with the government.
The next year saw a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity to get
the Taliban on board. Some former Taliban leaders were removed from the
UN sanctions list and the insurgents were encouraged to establish a
contact office in the Middle East. But the September 2011 assassination
of High Peace Council Chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani dealt a blow to the
Hopes were revived when the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar
in January. However, the group subsequently announced in May that it was
suspending talks with Washington. The Taliban accused Washington of
changing its position and failing to swap five Taliban Guantanamo
inmates in exchange for the only U.S. soldier the group holds.
According to Michael Semple, a former UN and EU diplomat, the Taliban is
questioning the benefits of negotiations. Based on his interviews with
current and former Taliban leaders, Semple says that hard-liners who
want to fight on appear to be winning out over those who favor a peace
settlement. "Some of them clearly have argued that if they fight on, they will be
able to see the Americans out of the country; they will find themselves
in a militarily strengthened position in 2014; and they will be in a
position to make a bid for power," Semple says. "Those in the movement
who believe that they are going to gain a military advantage, they have
the upper hand."
Dawood Muradian, head of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in
Kabul, says that the Taliban is clearly on the wane, but there will be
no room for a peace deal until it accepts the Afghan Constitution. "The Afghan government and the Afghan political class will continue to
be embracing, to be inviting anyone who wants to join the political
process," Muradian says, pointing to a "cautious optimism that we have
entered a post-Taliban era. The Taliban no longer present a strategic
threat to Afghanistan. The Taliban have been defeated politically,
morally, and also in many aspects, they have been defeated militarily."