The issue: It’s a long shot, but negotiations could be fruitful
Since 1973, when King Mohammed Zahir Shah was ousted in a bloodless coup by his communist brother-in-law, pessimism about Afghanistan has generally not gone unrewarded.
BUT HOPE in Afghanistan, if not exactly springing eternal, does come to life every few years, and so it has again with the announcement that the United States and the Taliban will begin talks in Doha, Qatar, on how to end that 12-year war.
The initial talks are to be followed by a Taliban meeting with President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council. That’s progress of a sort because for years the Taliban have refused to meet with Karzai’s peace council on the grounds that the group was a U.S. puppet.
The Taliban agreed to two key U.S. conditions for beginning talks: a pledge not to use Afghanistan to threaten other countries — still far short of the public break with al-Qaida that the U.S. wants — and an endorsement of the negotiating process.
The U.S. and its coalition partners want, in addition to a public disavowal of al-Qaida, an end to violence and an acceptance of the constitution with its endorsement of the rights of women.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT came as the Karzai government formally assumed responsibility for the security of all 403 districts in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The handover is the first step in the departure of coalition forces, numbering 100,000 troops, including 66,000 Americans.
By the end of the year, the number is to be halved and all combat troops are to be gone by the end of 2014, except for a small group of trainers and advisers. With the security of Afghanistan ostensibly in Afghani hands, a force of about 352,000 amid grave questions about its reliability and loyalties, the coalition will be largely limited to air strikes and medical evacuations.
The departure date would seem to indicate that a wise Taliban strategy would be to sit and wait, but perhaps the Taliban see the possibility of a genuine peace. Then again, perhaps not.
An earlier attempt at peace talks ended abruptly when a Taliban suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the previous head of the High Peace Council, in September 2011.
AND IT SEEMS not everybody has bought into this process. During the handover ceremony, a bomb targeting Mohammad Mohaqiq, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament, exploded, missing Mohaqiq, but killing three people and injuring dozens.
An administration official told the Associated Press that peace talks would be “complex, long and messy.” Pessimism is rarely misplaced in Afghanistan.