Talks between the Taliban, U.S. and Afghanistan have started says Afghan President Karzai

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday that initial three-way talks between the United States, Afghanistan and the Taliban have begun.

"There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban," Karzai told the Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday, ahead of his arrival Thursday in Pakistan.

The Obama administration has made little secret of its efforts to engage in preliminary talks with the Taliban to explore ways to wind down the American military involvement in Afghanistan. Obama has announced the U.S. will draw down its troops there by the end of 2014.

The White House gave at least tacit approval to the Taliban opening an office or quasi-embassy in the Qatari capital of Doha in order to facilitate discussions."The president has made clear that we would support and participate in Afghan-led reconciliation efforts," said White House spokesman Jay Carney on January 3rd, when asked about the Taliban's announced plans to open an office.

U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman (pictured above) has also been conducting a whirlwind--albeit low-profile--series of shuttle diplomacy consultations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Doha and other Persian Gulf countries to try to facilitate reconciliation talks.

Karzai has previously complained that the United States was shutting him out of the talks, however. And a former Afghan government advisor told Yahoo News Saturday that the United States was negotiating with a moderate faction of the Taliban unlikely to be able to deliver the Taliban hardliners.

"The [Taliban] group the U.S. is talking to has no clout," the Afghan advisor told Yahoo News on condition of anonymity Saturday. The Taliban group that has set up an office in Qatar are "moderate diplomats," he said.

Other South Asia analysts acknowledge that while that may be the case, the preliminary discussions are still useful for exploring  ways to achieve a negotiated resolution to the Afghan conflict, which few believe can be solved by military force alone.

"This is the first stage," said Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan conflict management center created by Congress, in an interview with Yahoo News Thursday. "We are talking about talking right now. By definition, you have people who can't deliver completely. ...Right now, you don't need Mullah Omar."

All the parties -- the Taliban, United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan--"know that nobody can win this outright militarily," he continued. "So you're looking at a stalemate. The U.S. wants out, the Taliban wants in. It makes sense and gives legitimacy" to preliminary efforts to see if a deal can be reached. "That is what we see right now."

Still, he cautioned, the talks are "very preliminary" and "nobody should be holding their breath that tomorrow there will be a peace deal signed and agreed on."

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