What will the United States or the Afghan government — which has accepted the plan for talks only reluctantly — get in exchange for the transfer of the Taliban leaders? So far, what the administration’s briefers are talking about sounds pretty meager. The Taliban might issue a statement condemning international terrorism or expressing openness to a political settlement.
The former would be nothing new: The Taliban government under Mullah Omar insisted before and after Sept. 11, 2001, that it rejected international terrorism — even as it hosted Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. As for a settlement, the Quetta Taliban have offered no indication it would ever accept the democratic institutions and women’s rights spelled out in the current Afghan constitution. On Thursday, the group issued a statement saying that it rejected any recognition of the constitution or the “stooge Kabul administration” of President Hamid Karzai.
A second question is whether the talks would have the effect of reviving a group that the U.S. military has on the ropes. The Quetta faction’s forces, which operate in southern Afghanistan, have been devastated by American offensives since the “surge” of 2010.Talks could put them back in the center of the struggle over Afghanistan’s future — and revive the morale of their ground forces.
Meanwhile, the Taliban faction that currently poses the most serious military threat — the Haqqani group, based in Pakistan’s tribal territories and backed by the Pakistani military — would be left out.