The Pakistan government met Thursday in Islamabad for the first time in peace talks with representatives of the Taliban, the Islamist fundamentalist political movement. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to reach his own deal with the Taliban lie at the base of some of his difficulties with the United States, including his refusal to approve a longer U.S. presence there.
Contacts between these two governments and the Taliban in their countries are important developments for the parties involved and the United States.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to try to talk with the Taliban instead of launching a new military offensive against them in the northeast tribal areas where they are based. Absent a dissenting view from Pakistan’s security forces, the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, he will be free to pursue further meetings and reconciliation.
Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan is preparing his country, first, for elections scheduled for April and, second, for the reduction of U.S. forces by the end of the year — either all American troops out or a withdrawal down to a level of 10,000 or so. President Barack Obama appears to be seeking Afghan agreement to leave a small U.S. force behind, despite political pressure in the United States to leave none and similar Afghan sentiment.
What this means for the Taliban is that, reflecting their battlefield and political success against the Americans and against Afghan and Pakistani government forces, they are now being invited to become a political force in both countries.
This news will be disconcerting for many in the United States since the Taliban, as the Afghan government that hosted the terrorist group al-Qaida, was the enemy in addition to al-Qaida, which carried out the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, the developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan mean that after more than 12 years of America’s war against the Taliban, they are back and regaining political respectability in both countries.