Report: U.S. diplomats holding secret talks with the Taliban

The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation. That may take some time: the first secret talks between the United States and representatives of North Vietnam took place in 1968; the Paris Peace Accords, intended to end direct U.S. military involvement in the war, were not agreed on until 1973…

Mullah Omar is not a participant in the preliminary talks. He does not attend even secret meetings of underground Taliban leadership councils in Pakistani safe houses. When he does speak, he does so obliquely, via cassette tapes. One purpose of the talks initiated by the Obama Administration, therefore, is to assess which figures in the Taliban’s leadership, if any, might be willing to engage in formal Afghan peace negotiations, and under what conditions…

Last spring, in Kabul, several former Taliban leaders told me that some exiled senior Taliban in Pakistan wanted the United States to leave Afghanistan but, at the same time, they preferred to talk with the Americans directly about the country’s future, both to escape I.S.I. manipulation and because they regarded Karzai as a weak puppet. As long as the Obama Administration refused to join in the talks, progress would be impossible, they told me. “It’s just the Americans,” Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said. “They are not ready to make positive progress.”