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Is the Taliban Ready to Give Up?

Rumors are swirling that senior figures in the Taliban are willing to enter into serious negotiations with American forces. These assertions should be taken with a fair pinch of salt, but if true, this is welcome news.

According to the Guardian, two former Taliban ministers, a former mujaheddin commander and an Afghan mediator with experience of negotiating with the Taliban participated in hours of individual discussions with professors Anatol Lieven, Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri of King’s College London and Michael Semple of Harvard:

At a press briefing on Monday on their report published by the Royal United Services Institute, [Anatol] Lieven and his colleagues painted a picture of a pragmatic Taliban leadership around Mullah Omar. …

[Michael] Semple said the Taliban figures they spoke to were driven by the belief that “war was not winnable” and by “fear of precipitating civil war”. Lieven described “real disillusionment and anger with al-Qaida” within the Taliban leadership.

Another piece of good news: despite the overwhelmingly bad press the Afghanistan campaign gets in the U.S., it appears that our troops are fighting well and that the Petraeus-McChrystal strategy has been working. Bizarrely, beyond the attention of a few industrious foreign correspondents, COIN has not received anything like the attention that it deserves from the press or, more bizarrely still, from the president, who has barely mentioned the conflict on which he staked so much, for himself and for the country. It’s a real shame that the Obama White House seems to be trying to sweep its own war under the rug. COIN aimed to create the conditions for a political settlement, and it may have come very close to doing exactly that.

Grave challenges persist. The Afghan government is rife with corruption and its security forces can not provide real security beyond or even within Kabul. Pakistan has not abandoned its nefarious designs to establish control in Afghanistan in order to gain strategic depth in its long-standing contest with India. And even a decimated Taliban includes more than “pragmatic” fighters eager to settle, like those Lieven and his colleagues met.

President Obama hasn’t been out there defending his strategy, updating the country on progress in the war, and explaining to people where we are and what we are trying to do—especially when it seems that there is a good story to tell. He’s supposed to be a great orator: this is something we need to hear.

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