Can US and Taliban cut a deal in Afghanistan?
Even before Osama bin Laden's killing, the Taliban were softening their image while the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan set the stage for talks. Now the US must decide if it's worth years of further military and diplomatic effort to hammer out an agreement.
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On the US side, the demise of Al Qaeda’s figurehead has purged some fears among Americans of the group and exposed its current weakness. And having burnished his anti-terror credentials, President Obama would have wider domestic latitude to cut a peace deal that involved insurgents who are willing to swear off any ties to Al Qaeda.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Talking to the Taliban
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Some American officials are already downgrading the threat of Al Qaeda.
“We are going to try to take advantage of this to demonstrate to people in the area that Al Qaeda is a thing of the past, and we are hoping to bury the rest of Al Qaeda along with Osama bin Laden,” said US Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan on Monday.
But it’s unclear whether this narrative will further the push for a peace process or for declaring “mission accomplished.”
The antiwar group Rethink Afghanistan put out a petition on the heels of bin Laden’s death, saying the rationale for the war has “evaporated.” The most recent Pew polling from early April found half of Americans wanted to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, with 44 percent preferring to stay until the situation is stabilized.
Some Americans express concern about mission creep, doubts that a vital national security interest remains, and skepticism that the US can stabilize the situation.
Within the region, those who view the American presence as only fueling the conflict are urging a US withdrawal as well. But others contend a lasting settlement requires ongoing American engagement.
“It all depends on what America does next – are they going to put more pressure on Pakistan [or] will they look at this opportunity as an opportunity to withdraw from Afghanistan?” says Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani security analyst.
The current regime a repeat of Afghanistan's tumultuous history
Peace requires a constant gardener in the soils of Afghanistan. A search through a century of newspaper archives finds a string of dispatches about uprisings against Kabul by the Waziris, the Afridis, the Shinwaris, and other tribes on either side of the border that are at the forefront of the current conflict.
In periods of relative calm, rulers would try spurts of modernization. One article from Afghanistan in 1932 reads: "Afghan Girls Like Attending School."
These moments of spring in Kabul have frosted over because of overly ambitious governments that failed to find a balance among competing groups. Today, even supporters of Mr. Karzai's government argue that the current regime is a repeat of history. They liken the 2001 Bonn Conference in Germany, which created the Karzai government after the fall of the Taliban, to the Treaty of Paris after World War I: a victor's peace that disenfranchised the losers so much that future conflict was all but inevitable.
But negotiating a more inclusive government now, one that brings in elements of the Taliban and other insurgents, remains an epic challenge of diplomacy. "It's like designing a mission to Mars – the complexity of it is really quite great," said Stephen Biddle with the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview last year.