The talks, if not the withdrawal proposals, are being supported by the Afghan government. The Obama administration, which has publicly declared its desire to coax “moderate” Taliban fighters away from armed struggle, says it is not involved in the discussions and will not be until the Taliban agree to lay down their arms. But nor is it trying to stop the talks, and Afghan officials believe they have tacit support from the Americans.
The discussions have so far produced no agreements, since the insurgents appear to be insisting that any deal include an American promise to pull out — at the very time that the Obama administration is sending more combat troops to help reverse the deteriorating situation on the battlefield. Indeed, with 20,000 additional troops on the way, American commanders seem determined to inflict greater pain on the Taliban first, to push them into negotiations and extract better terms. And most of the initial demands are nonstarters for the Americans in any case.
While the talks have been under way for months, they have accelerated since Mr. Obama took office and have produced more specific demands, the Afghan intermediaries said.
The Taliban leaders, through their spokesman, and those of other armed groups publicly deny that they are involved in any negotiations. But several Afghans here and in Pakistan say they have been talking directly to the Taliban leadership group headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, the movement’s secretive founder. The council is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Discussions have also been held with representatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a longtime warlord with a record of extreme brutality, and with Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose guerrilla army is based in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Mr. Haqqani’s group is also known for its ruthlessness and for sending suicide bombers into Afghanistan.
“America cannot win this war, and the Taliban cannot win this war,” Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador and one of the intermediaries, said in an interview. “I have delivered this message to the Taliban.”
The talks under way now appear to be directed not at individual bands of antigovernment insurgents — the strategy suggested by President Obama — but at the leaders of the large movements.
In other words, this is a "grand" peace, not a strategy to peel away isolated Taliban leaders from the movement in general. Can it work? Who knows? But it gives hope for the prospect of peace in Afghanistan.