Elements of the strategy already underway include escalation of military pressure on the Haqqani network of insurgents in eastern Afghanistan — along with an open door for the network, and other Taliban groups, to hold direct talks with the United States.
Pakistan, where the groups are based, has been offered a principal role in the negotiations in exchange for curtailing its support for them and helping bring them to the table, where the Afghan government will also have a seat.
Until recently, the administration insisted that substantive talks must be between the Afghans and the insurgents, with U.S. facilitation and Pakistani support. The new strategy, officials said, recognizes that talks are more likely to succeed with the direct participation of the four parties with the biggest stake in the outcome.
A senior administration official said that initial negotiations would ideally result in “measurable, demonstrable confidence-building measures,” including local cease-fires, “that will lead to conversations about the future of Afghanistan” among insurgents and other internal Afghan groups vying for control under a future political structure.
The strategy also includes more energetic efforts to persuade neighbors — many of which have conflicting interests in Afghanistan — to support a political resolution and contributing to sustainable economic development.
Marc Grossman, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, last month visited most of the other key players in the region, including India, China and the Central Asian republics north of the Afghan border. European interlocutors with embassies in Tehran have been enlisted to discuss the issue with Iran.
On Wednesday, officials from these governments and others, along with the United States, will attend a regional conference in Istanbul that the administration hopes will result in pledges of non-interference in Afghanistan and long-term economic and political support. The administration has already shepherded several preliminary meetings for an economic initiative it calls the New Silk Road, which would seek to reestablish Afghanistan’s historic position as the Asian crossroads.
The Istanbul conference is to be followed by a broader international gathering on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 5, and by a NATO summit meeting in Chicago in May that will add a political component to plans drawn up last year for the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.
In Chicago, the United States and its allies “hope to be able to say more about reconciliation” among Afghan combatants, “knock on wood,” said the official, who discussed the administration’s plan on the condition of anonymity.