But senior administration officials acknowledged that there have been no meetings with Taliban interlocutors since January. The lack of progress was underscored by a rash of insurgent attacks in recent weeks and a Taliban statement last week announcing the inception of “the current year’s spring operation” against foreign military “occupiers” and anyone who assists them.
The administration had anticipated significant movement in the discussions by this month’s NATO summit in Chicago, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the alliance expect to set a course for the withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But the political plan, intended to move alongside military progress on a parallel track, now risks falling off the rails. The approaching pullout deadline has raised anxiety among many Afghans who fear they will be left with the results of a rushed negotiation that gives the Taliban unwarranted political power, or a civil war like the one that engulfed Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The establishment of a Taliban office in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar as a venue for negotiations, which the insurgents and the United States agreed to in November, was to usher in a series of confidence-building measures between the two combatant forces. Initially delayed by objections from Karzai, it is now on hold, amid finger-pointing and allegations of bad faith on all sides.
The uncertain future has given rise to new coalitions over which the administration has little control — some designed to make peace, others to gird for battle — and has encouraged Afghanistan’s neighbors to begin planning to protect their interests.
“There’s open talk of civil war . . . between the north and the south, [and] among the south itself between the Taliban and other Pashtuns,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author who has written extensively about al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “There’s going to be a wave of attacks and offenses by the Taliban if there is no peace process,” Rashid said at a recent Washington conference on reconciliation with the insurgents.
Deadlocked over withdrawal
“The role of the United States in talking to the Taliban, in meeting with insurgents, is one and only one,” Marc Grossman, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said last month, “and that is to try to open the door to a conversation among Afghans about the future.”
There is no question that Afghans are talking to one another, but there is little indication that any of those discussions are bearing fruit. Karzai, who blames the administration for not including him in its Taliban talks, has little to show for his own discussions with the insurgents.