Is there any chance that the logjam on negotiating an end to the war in Afghanistan is loosening up? You might think so, from the spate of reports that various parties—including the United Nations and the government of Afghanistan—are serious about reconciliation talks with Taliban officials. So far, however, the United States seems to be taking a hands-off attitude.
Let’s review the bidding.
In six weeks or so, President Karzai of Afghanistan—yes, that supposedly discredited figure who stayed in power by rigging last summer’s election—will convene a grand tribal council, or loya jirga, to seek a broad pact of reconciliation that, he says, is meant to include Afghan leaders of the Taliban. To the horror and consternation of US officials, who say that they support "reintegration" of the Taliban’s fighters into Afghan society but oppose "reconciliation" with the Taliban as an organization, Karzai is offering to deal with the Taliban all the way to the top, including Mullah Omar, the one-eyed thug and would-be caliph who holds the loyalty of many if not most Taliban insurgents.
"There are some contacts, and contacts will continue on the local, national and broader political level, but it is too eaerly to speak about the outcome of those contacts."
A possible signal of more breakthroughs to come occurred when the UN, with US support, removed five former Taliban officials, including former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil, from the blacklist that placed them under sanctions. While the exact connection of these officials to the Taliban, including Mullah Omar, today is unclear, there is hope that the UN action is a step toward loosening sanctions on hundreds of other members of the Taliban, paving the way to more productive talks.
In early January, Kai Eide, the outgoing UN representative in Afghanistan—who has been all along a consistent advocate for talking to the Taliban—met with several representatives of the Taliban, although, as the New York Times reported:
Most of the important details of the meeting were unknown: exactly when and where the meeting took place; what, if anything, was agreed upon; and who represented the Taliban.
And the Times added: