Thursday, February 16, 2012

More baby steps towards ending the indefinite war

Yesterday Afghani President Hamid Karzai said that his government had begun talks with the Taliban and the US. At this point, there doesn't appear to have been any actual negotiations, but contacts between the three entities have begun.

...the mere possibility that the Taliban would entertain continuing direct talks with the Afghan government is significant. In the past, the Taliban have described Mr. Karzai as a “puppet leader” and the Afghan government as a “puppet government.” Since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, they have insisted they are the rightful Afghan government. In the last year, they have insisted on face-to-face talks with the Americans rather than with the Afghan government.

If they continue to talk directly to the Afghan government, it would suggest an admission that the Afghan government is legitimate. It also begins to get key players needed to start discussions in the same room, but the obstacles to real breakthroughs remain formidable.

Public Radio International spoke with Michael Semple, Afghanistan expert, who sees even more significant movement from the Taliban.

Semple, a fellow at The Carr Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the Taliban admitted to him they made “serious mistakes” when they were in power in Afghanistan. Among the mistakes they cited include giving refuge to Al-Qaeda and implementing social policies — especially targeting women — that alienated many Afghans.

"It's not just that I've heard it from senior Taliban," Semple said. "It's clear that now it's starting to drive the politics of the movement. It's gone from being a lunatic fringe part of the Taliban saying this to the mainstream of the Taliban have realized 'We have to endorse this position.' "

And finally, from Reuters we learn that the US hopes to have formal talks underway by May.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Karzai's comments showed Afghanistan was involved in reconciliation discussions.

"What President Karzai's statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is now very much involved in the process of reconciliation," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.

"That's extremely helpful and important to determining whether or not we are ultimately going to be able to succeed with reconciliation or not," he said.

Washington wants to accelerate contacts with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May, officials say, in what would be a welcome bright spot in Western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.

You may have heard some on the left talking about a report written by Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis on his assessment of the war.

That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going.

I would suggest that's not surprising. The history of the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan should tell us that a military solution was never going to be the answer. But if its been enough to bring both the Taliban and the Karzai government to the table to do the hard work of negotiating some kind of agreement, perhaps there's a tiny flicker of hope starting to shine on the horizon.

Hang in there for the long game!

You can read more about my thoughts on the importance of these negotiations here.

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