“Everything in Afghanistan seems very ambiguous now,” said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban diplomat and a member of the government-appointed peace council. “There are a hundred questions to be answered, but nothing is clear, and we have no magic formula.”
Failure of initiatives
Just a few months ago, momentum seemed to be building for rapprochement. In December, Afghan officials, political opposition figures and Taliban leaders held private discussions in Paris. Several participants described the meetings as a breakthrough, yet no concrete actions or agreements emerged from them.
A planned Taliban office in Qatar, where the insurgents could meet with Afghan and foreign officials to talk about peace negotiations, did not get off the ground before the summer fighting season began this year. Although President Hamid Karzai, who had balked at the idea, finally reached agreement with Qatar in April, the Taliban — which has insisted that it will talk only with the Americans and not with Karzai — has expressed little recent interest in moving forward.
Talks between the Americans and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, ended early last year, and a tentative deal to exchange prisoners and implement other confidence-building measures fell apart. Those discussions have not resumed, according to Obama administration officials.
The common denominator that played a part in undoing both initiatives, observers said, was the deep hostility and mistrust between Taliban leaders and Karzai. The Taliban does not recognize the Kabul government as legitimate, calling it a Western-installed puppet. The group has demanded a new constitution and says it prefers to negotiate with a wide range of Afghans and foreign interlocutors.
“The Taliban say Karzai is the biggest obstacle to peace,” said Waheed Mojda, a political analyst and former Taliban ministry employee. “They discovered in Paris that they have a lot in common with some of his opponents, and they have the same questions everyone else does about 2014. Once Karzai is gone from power, they want to be in communication with other parties and movements.”
Aides to Karzai, however, said they are convinced that despite the more-moderate tone being adopted by Taliban leaders today, they remain ruthless extremists who want to forcibly turn Afghanistan into a pure Islamic state. Karzai, who shares ethnic and tribal roots with the Taliban, was once fond of calling the group’s members “brothers,” but his comments have taken a harsher, more exasperated tone of late.