Exit strategy: Talks with the Taliban are needed in Afghanistan

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Major developments have piled on top of one another in the last two days in Afghanistan. These include a formal turnover of military responsibility for the country from international to Afghan forces, announcement of the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar and declarations of intention to open both United States and Afghan government talks with the Taliban.

Just how complicated and tentative all of this will be was revealed Wednesday when Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was suspending his government's previous decision to talk with the Taliban because he sees its planned office in Qatar as a virtual Taliban embassy and the Taliban plans to fly its flag there rather than the Afghan national flag.

The U.S. government is also busily laying down conditions, such as having the Taliban accept the Afghanistan constitution before being allowed to participate in political life, including the 2014 elections. The Taliban could point out that it had no opportunity to play any role in the development of that constitution.

Anyone who tries to get the Afghans to settle their problems by any means other than heavily armed violence is facing a very tough row to hoe. At the same time, if there is any conclusion to be drawn from America's miserable 12 years of involvement there, it is that only through a political solution will the United States be able to walk away with its dignity intact.

No military victory is in sight, in spite of the heavy commitment of U.S. forces and funding. The idea that the Taliban would be pushed out and followed by some sort of democratic, participatory government that would not include them turned out to be equally illusory. What the Obama administration will seek is to leave behind in 2014 a relatively stable political situation that will permit the Afghans, if they choose, to reject a return to the rigid Islamic regime the Taliban imposed when they were in power.

One problem in achieving that is the Taliban themselves, who are not exactly reasonable people and who are now strengthened by Qatari money behind them. Another problem is the crafty Mr. Karzai, who is always watching out for his own future, inside or outside Afghanistan.

Continued satellite and other surveillance will serve as America's means of assuring that no future al-Qaida or other 9/11-type attack will be mounted against the United States from Afghanistan.

In the meantime, talks with the Taliban are a useful step in seeking an acceptable outcome.



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