Just following up on the news I mentioned earlier today that the Taliban is suspending preliminary talks with the U.S.
Robert Dreyfuss, a regular The Diplomat contributor and long-time Afghanistan watcher, shared his thoughts with me on the implications of that announcement, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s call for U.S. troops to withdraw from its military outposts.
“I’ve long believed that Afghanistan was never going to be easy. And it’s getting a lot harder. It’s no real surprise that Karzai would take a hard line, since he’s been building toward that for a long time, on night raids, on contractors, on the handover of prisoners, and on talks with the Taliban,” Dreyfuss told me. Like many of those issues – but not night raids, so far – the differences have been solved or papered over, and that’s likely to be the case here, too. But Karzai is following the Iraq model that Maliki used, first pushing U.S. forces out of cities and back into bases. I don’t think his idea is likely to be carried out, but it’s another important signpost toward the inevitable exit.”
I also asked him what his take was on how committed the Taliban has been to the talks. “I do think that part of the Taliban is serious about talks, and likely they still are. But the more the timetable accelerates for a U.S. withdrawal, the more the Taliban is likely to wait things out,” he told me.
“They might be willing still to explore talks with the U.S., but unless Pakistan uses its muscle with the main Taliban factions, the talks aren’t likely to succeed. I think Karzai knows that a deal with the Taliban means the end of his reign, and I don't see a path for him to stay in power in the middle of some U.S.-Pakistan deal over a new Afghan government. But the writing is on the wall for the U.S. drawdown, and that puts pressure on Karzai to make a deal. So he’s got to bolster his anti-American credentials.”