Media reports of American contacts with the leaders of the Afghan insurgency have grown from a trickle to a torrent in recent days, suggesting something may be about to change, for better or worse, in Afghanistan in the near term.
Or is it? Virtually nothing concrete is known about the contacts with the Afghan insurgency and the American strategy is anything but clear at this point. The only thing that can be discerned with any degree of confidence is that the American side, for long the lone voice opposed to talks, or even talks about talks, with the upper echelons of leadership of the Afghan insurgency, appears to be slowly coming around to the idea of the need for discussions sooner rather than later. Beyond that, little can be said with any certainty. It appears all sides — foreign, Afghan and insurgent — are hedging their bets, calculating that while something is likely to change come next July (the date when President Obama has pledged to begin the drawdown in Afghanistan, if some as yet unknown conditions are present) there is little certainty about which way the war in Afghanistan will break. In this atmosphere of strategic uncertainty it makes sense for the warring sides to initiate some back-channel discussions, even as they fight each other fiercely on the battlefield.
Much will depend on certain variables. For example, can the Taliban leadership ever be convinced to work inside a governance framework that may also be acceptable to the West and the non-Pakhtun constituencies in Afghanistan? There are two opposing views on this. One camp believes the Taliban’s millenarian ideology is simply incompatible with anything resembling a modern state and no middle ground can ever be found. The other camp believes that the roughest edges of the Taliban — a wholesale rejection of anything even remotely modern, amputations, stoning, other such punishments, etc. — can be smoothed out.
Also, what could ever persuade the Taliban to stop...