It’s a testament, I think, to how many people are exasperated with/dispirited by the progress of the war that this potentially huge news has been only lightly blogged around the ‘sphere today. What is there to say anymore, really?
The threshold question: Is Karzai doing this with or without the U.S.’s blessing? American officials are quoted in the piece as endorsing what’s going on, but remember that according to this NYT piece back in June, he’s been negotiating with jihadis for awhile now “outside the purview of American and NATO officials.” This might be a case of him telling Petraeus and Eikenberry “here’s what we’re doing today” and the U.S. being forced to go along for the time being for appearances’ sake.
Or, it might not:
Reports of the talks come amid what Afghan, Arab and European sources said they see as a distinct change of heart by the Obama administration toward full backing of negotiations. Although President Obama and his national security team have long said the war would not be won by military means alone, sources said the administration only recently appeared open to talks rather than resisting them.
“We did not have consensus, and there were some who thought they could do it militarily,” said a second European official. The Europeans said the American shift began in the summer, as combat intensified with smaller-than-expected NATO gains despite the arrival of the full complement of new U.S. troops, amid rising U.S. public opposition to the war.
The United States’ European partners in Afghanistan, with different histories and under far stronger domestic pressure to withdraw their troops, have always been more amenable to a negotiated settlement. “What it really boils down to is the Americans both supporting and in some cases maybe even participating in talking with the enemy,” the first European official said. “If you strip everything away, that’s the deal here. For so long, politically, it’s been a deal breaker in the United States, and with some people it still is.”…
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told reporters last week that high-level Taliban leaders had “sought to reach out” to the top level of the Karzai government. “This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” he said.
According to WaPo, the Taliban envoys to Karzai are authorized to speak for Mullah Omar and the rest of the Taliban leadership council. In which case, riddle me this: Why on earth would the Taliban be looking for a peace deal now, after “smaller-than-expected NATO gains” this summer and knowing that political pressure in the U.S. to end the war is already sufficiently high as to force Obama’s dopey withdrawal start date next July? What could the Taliban possibly hope to gain by negotiating instead of sticking it out? One of WaPo’s sources claims that they know “they are going to be sidelined” in Afghanistan in the future, but nothing I’ve ever read suggests that that’s true. They’re perfectly capable of winning a long civil war against the weak Afghan army if NATO withdrew. The source adds that “They know that more radical elements are being promoted within their rank and file outside their control,” by which I assume he means the Haqqani network (they’re also suspected of having a hand in the current European terror plot). The Haqqanis aren’t part of these negotiations, apparently — in which case, (a) a deal with the Taliban actually isn’t going to solve everything, (b) if the Taliban leadership is worried about “more radical” elements, why should we/they expect that a peace deal negotiated by the leaders would be honored by those radicals, and (c) because the Haqqanis are regarded as an even more reliable proxy for Pakistan than the Taliban, there’s no telling whether Pakistan’s onboard with this deal or ready to resort to who knows what in order to scuttle it. Remember what they did last time a high-level Taliban leader tried to talk peace with Karzai?
The one scenario I can come up with for why there might be something to this round of peace talks is that, after the floods in Pakistan and the new escalation in the border areas between jihadis attacking NATO convoys and the CIA bombarding terrorist hideouts, Pakistani intelligence might be worried about destabilization and therefore willing to see what’s on the table as far as a peace deal goes. But again, in that case, why isn’t the Haqqani network part of the deal? And why would any sane person trust the Taliban or the Haqqanis to keep up their end of the bargain given the jihadi track record when it comes to peace treaties? This is just a fig leaf to justify a more rapid withdrawal, isn’t it?