“If Karzai were to tell [the Obama administration] to go ahead, then we’d start talking again,” said one of two officials who discussed the secret negotiations on the condition of anonymity.
A tentative U.S.-Taliban deal, including the transfer of five Afghan detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison to Qatar and an insurgent renunciation of international terrorism, collapsed in December when Karzai refused to go along with it.
There have been no meetings with the insurgents since then. Although all parties have publicly said that they agree to one element of the deal — the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar — “we need now to make it real,” one official said.
Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani, for the first time acknowledging Qatar’s support for the arrangement, said Wednesday that his government welcomed “any opportunity” to defuse tension in the region. Thani spoke after a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The administration, which has said that negotiations must be “Afghan-led,” insists that its talks with the Taliban are only a preliminary effort to build confidence before actual negotiations over Afghanistan’s future can begin between the insurgents and the Karzai government.
One hurdle is that the Taliban prefers to talk to the United States and is “not willing to sit down with the Afghan government’,” one official said. “Our job is to see if we can break through that door.” Karzai has been under pressure from domestic opponents of negotiations to stand firm against the talks.
The officials provided an overview of how the talks have proceeded and where they go now.
Officials remain far from certain that the Taliban leadership is seriously interested in a political settlement. “There is an increasing number of Taliban who are tired of having the hell beat out of them,” one said. “I think they want to stop.” But, at the same time, “I imagine there are going to be splits,” the official said. “Some are going to want to talk, some are going to want to fight.”
Late last year, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that both military and diplomatic success were unlikely before December 2014, the date that President Obama and NATO allies have set for withdrawal of all combat troops from Afghanistan.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan, was said to be so angered by the recent National Intelligence Estimate that he wrote a blistering formal dissent.
The officials said combat against the insurgents would continue and described what they called a “holistic” approach in which diplomatic progress was not possible without gains on the civilian and military fronts.