Now that the McChrystal-Petraeus excitment is over, as the dust clears the United States is still facing the same ugly, unwinnable war in Afghanistan that was there last week, last month, and last year. Despite the fantasies of General Petraeus and the cult of counterinsurgency (COIN), the war isn’t going to end when the Taliban is pushed out of every village and every valley of Afghanistan. It will end when the Taliban, the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the fighters led by the Haqqani family — encouraged or pressured by their sponsors in Pakistan — strike a power-sharing deal with a new government in Kabul.

That’s the message of an important essay today by Dan Serwer, vice president form Centers of Peacebuilding Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Entitled, "A Negotiated Peace," Serwer says that negotiations with the Taliban et al. could start as early as this fall. He argues:

"The administration is looking for a decent, negotiated exit. The Pakistani intelligence service would act as a surrogate (and guarantor) for the Taliban, as Slobodan Milosevic did for the Bosnian Serbs 15 years ago. The Americans would deliver Kabul. The deal might leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan but keep al-Qaeda in Pakistan, where Islamabad would agree to deal harshly with its fighters."


"If the Taliban does come to power in part of Afghanistan — say, controlling the south and sharing power in Kabul — Afghanistan could start to look like Lebanon: Hezbollah controls large portions of the country, operates its own military forces and delivers services to large parts of the population, but the United States and other countries have embassies in Beirut, deal regularly with the government and parliament, and try to persuade Lebanese authorities to limit the sway and reach of Hezbollah."

And he addresses the divisions within the Afghan elite, where elements of the old Northern Alliance — and their friends in India, Russia and Iran — aren;t likely to welcome the Taliban into a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul. Still, Serwer says:

"While Afghan President Hamid Karzai would gladly end a war that pits him against fellow Pashtuns, the Taliban’s Afghan enemies — the Tajik- and Uzbek-dominated Northern Alliance — are unlikely to appreciate a large fraction of their country being turned over to those who regard the Quetta Shura, which runs the most important segment of the Taliban, as the ultimate authority.

"Karzai recently fired two key security officials, ostensibly for allowing attacks on the national peace conference (jirga) that gave him more or less a blank check in dealing with the Taliban. The men he fired were tough Afghan nationalist opponents of the Quetta Shura and their perceived backers in Pakistan.

"Who replaces them as interior minister and intelligence chief will send signals to Pakistan and the Taliban. If Karzai replaces them with people more to the liking of Islamabad, and the Americans nod approvingly, it will indicate that the door is open to negotiations."

When Karzai fired those two officials, the interior minister and the director of the intelligence service, it drew howls of outrage from American circles. Key representatives of the American project in Afghanistan had befriended those officials, who in turn were unyielding opponents of the Taliban and of Pakistan. But Serwer is exactly right that it would augur well if Karzai names replacements who are more in tune with Karzai’s deliberate effort to reach a political accord with the Taliban.

Today’s New York Times carries, as its lead story, a critically important piece by Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt, and Carlotta Gall, called "Pakistan Is Said to Pursue An Afghanistan Foothold." In it, the reporters provide a comprehensive account of how Pakistan, led by its military and the ISI, the army’s intelligence service, are seeking to broker a deal between Karzai and the Taliban. And Washington isn’t happy:

"Washington has watched with some nervousness as General Kayani and Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, shuttle between Islamabad and Kabul, telling Mr. Karzai that they agree with his assessment that the United States cannot win in Afghanistan, and that a postwar Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a longtime Pakistani asset. In a sign of the shift in momentum, the two Pakistani officials were next scheduled to visit Kabul on Monday, according to Afghan TV. "

It adds:

"Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.

"In addition, Afghan officials say, the Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with General Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership."

The real scandal inside the Obama administration isn’t the one involving Petraeus and McChrystal, although the COIN cult will actively oppose the president and Vice President Biden if they seek a political accord in advance of the July, 2011, pullout date. The scandal is that the White House isn’t supporting negotiations, on the unfounded theory that first it’s necessary to deliver punishing blows to the Taliban in the hope that only then will the insurgency fragment and leaders start to talk.