Talk Time

Talk Time

As the Obama administration debates the speed of its military withdrawal from Afghanistan between now and 2014, there is mounting pressure on all parties to find negotiated solutions.

Meeting in London earlier this week, the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari respectively, set themselves the ambitious target of achieving peace in just six months.

After nearly four decades of war in Afghanistan, six months would seem a tad too short to build peace. Sceptics might say that Karzai and Zardari were probably saying it for the benefit of their host, British Prime Minister David Cameron. A joint statement issued after their trilateral summit held in Cameron's country home outside London said that the leaders "committed themselves to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of a peaceful settlement over the next six months." The party that is critical for the peace process, the Taliban, was not present at the London talks.

Even if the joint statement meant what it said, Zardari has no say over those who really control the Taliban the Pakistan army and the ISI. And the Taliban has repeatedly reaffirmed that it has no intention to talk to Karzai or his representative.

The joint statement also supported "the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council as part of an Afghan-led peace process".

It is not clear if the statement marks a resolution of the differences between Karzai and the West on the terms of the talks with the Taliban. Until recently, Karzai had insisted that the main purpose of the Doha office should be talks with the Afghan government.

He is rightly concerned that Doha will be used for the legitimisation of the Taliban and holding talks with them behind Kabul's back. Washington and London seem desperate for talks with the Taliban and any deal that would let them declare victory and get out of Afghanistan.

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