It’s never easy to keep up with the multiple threads of news from Afghanistan: military, political and diplomatic. And now it’s even more difficult, as different opinions emerge on the military campaign and whether/when/how a dialogue with the Taliban should begin.
On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, CIA Director Leon Panetta said the U.S. had seen “no evidence that [the Taliban] are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al Qaeda, where they would really try to become part of that society.” Those are the essential demands of the U.S. for allowing the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Later, President Obama expressed similar caution, when asked at the end of the G20 summit about Pakistan’s more assertive approach in mediating talks.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” the President said. “I think we have to view these efforts with skepticism but also with openness. The Taliban is a blend of hard-core ideologues, tribal leaders, kids that basically sign up because it’s the best job available to them. Not all of them are going to be thinking the same way about the Afghan government, about the future of Afghanistan. And so we’re going to have to sort through how these talks take place.”
The view of some European allies seems rather more fluid. In a revealing weekend interview, the chief of Britain’s General Staff suggested that dialogue with the Taliban should begin “pretty soon.”
“There's always been a point at which you start to negotiate with each other," Gen. Sir David Richards said. In his “private view” there was “no reason why we shouldn't be looking at that sort of thing pretty soon,” he told BBC Radio.
On the day that another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan, Richards also said that while British forces would continue to take the battle to the Taliban, he was “less certain” that victory could now be secured.
"I think on one level, the tactical level, the lower military level, we need to continue to make the Taliban feel that they are being punished for what they are doing in a military sense,” he said.
"So that needs to continue, but whether we can turn that into some sense of strategic defeat I'm less certain.”
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron said flatly of Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan: “We cannot be there for another five years.” But Richards says the Taliban should not be given a timetable to "sit this out for five years, 10 years or whatever".
That sentiment echoes one expressed by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger last week in The Washington Post. “Neither the premise nor the deadline is realistic,” he said of plans to turn over authority to the Afghan government and armed forces beginning next year. “Artificial deadlines should be abandoned."