Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat in charge of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs said
Washington has now publicly made clear the US government is serious about negotiating with the Taliban. Speaking at a conference in Madrid, the US envoy said:
‘Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or
Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war
It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t
negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders.’
In the past, the US has been wary of overtures to senior Taliban leaders who sheltered al Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks, as opposed seeking to peel off the insurgency’s foot soldiers through a
process of “reintegration”, which, as Mathew Waldman has shown, has rarely
Negotiating with the Taliban, however, requires the US to think through very carefully what its “red lines” are and the extent to which they can be held to. The desire to negotiate with
Taliban senior leadership requires giving Pakistan a major voice in the internal Afghan negotiations. But how will this be seen in New Delhi?
Then there is the question of lowering the international community’s goals. Western publics have been “sold” the war in part on the basis of its altruistic aims – for
example the need to increase girls’ education in a once-backward land. But this, and similar initiatives, may have to be put on the back-burner in at least parts of the country if the Taliban
form part of the government. Is the West ready for that?