“The Taliban have realized that they can’t achieve military victory,” argues a senior Pentagon official. “They can try to wait the U.S. out, but the price is that they won’t be able to play in the political transition.”

The latest sign of rapprochement came last week in Chantilly, outside Paris, where the French government brokered a gathering of Afghan political leaders that included two representatives of the Taliban, Shahabuddin Delawar and Naeem Wardak. The meeting, organized by a French think tank called the Foundation for Strategic Research, was closely followed by U.S. officials…

The Taliban negotiators are part of what U.S. officials view as a “pragmatist” faction headed by Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the chief of the Taliban senior shura and the deputy to the group’s leader, Mohammad Omar. Opposing the pragmatists is a hard-line faction headed by Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a former Guantanamo detainee who is head of the Taliban military commission.

The pragmatists’ case for negotiation has been strengthened by Pakistan’s recent cooperation with the United States and Afghanistan in planning for the future.