As US-Taliban talks stall, hope for political solution dims: WP


After more than a year of sporadic contacts, US-Taliban talks have been stalled for months, deflating Obama administration hopes that progress toward a political solution to the Afghan war would be well underway this spring. President Obama, in his Kabul speech last week, cited political reconciliation as one of the five pillars of his strategy to “complete our mission and end the war.” He said the administration was “in direct discussions” with the insurgents.
But senior administration officials acknowledged that there have been no meetings with Taliban interlocutors since January. The lack of progress was underscored by an explosion of insurgent attacks in recent weeks and a Taliban statement last week announcing the inception of “the current year’s spring operation” against foreign military “occupiers” and anyone who assists them, the Washington Post said on Wednesday. The administration had anticipated significant movement in the discussions by this month’s NATO summit in Chicago, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the alliance expect to set a course for the withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the political plan, intended to move alongside military progress on a parallel track, now risks falling off the rails. The approaching withdrawal deadline has raised anxiety among many Afghans who fear they will be left with the results of a rushed negotiation that gives the Taliban unwarranted political power, or a civil war like the one that engulfed Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The establishment of a Taliban office in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar as a venue for negotiations, agreed between the insurgents and the United States in November, was to usher in a series of confidence-building measures between the two combatant forces. Initially delayed by objections from Karzai, it is now on hold, amid finger-pointing and allegations of bad faith on all sides. The uncertain future has given rise to new coalitions over which the administration has little control — some designed to make peace, others to gird for battle — and has encouraged Afghanistan’s neighbors to begin planning to protect their own interests. “There’s open talk of civil war between the north and the south, and amongst the south itself between the Taliban and other Pashtuns”.
According to Karzai adviser Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, his government is in “formal negotiations” with Hezb-e-Islami, whose militant wing is headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. U.S. forces consider the insurgent group, known as HiG (for Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin), to be more amenable to a deal and less threatening than either the main Taliban group headed by Mohammed Omar or the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. But talks with the HiG are now on their third iteration, with peace proposals repeatedly offered by the group and then withdrawn.