The purpose of the NATO war effort, over the past two years, has been to set the negotiating table more favorably to the Western side, hoping to forcefully “demonstrate” to the Taliban that it can’t prevail on the battlefield and therefore that it needs to be more amenable to U.S. terms for peace. And, of course, the Taliban’s purpose has been the exact opposite — to demonstrate the futility of the NATO effort, so as to give it a better chance of imposing its own terms at the peace table.
Despite the “surge”, the Taliban doesn’t appear to be feeling squeezed to accept U.S. peace terms. On the contrary, right now it seems to playing hard to get, believing that time and circumstance work in its favor.
So outcome of the Afghanistan war is unlikely to be determined by the troop numbers to which President Obama commits on Wednesday. Instead, it will be shaped by what the U.S., the Northern Alliance, and Afghanistan’s key neighbors, most importantly Pakistan, are willing to accept by way of a political compromise.