Things are happening fast in Afghanistan. This week, the Taliban opened an office in Qatar and declared its intention to open peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments. At the same time, American and allied forces formally turned over military responsibility for the country to Afghan troops.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai quickly complicated both issues: He said he was suspending his government’s decision to talk with the Taliban, and he broke off talks with the United States on future military cooperation.
The Obama Administration is setting conditions for possible peace talks. It wants the Taliban to accept Afghanistan’s constitution before it can participate in the country’s political life — including next year’s scheduled elections — although the Taliban had no role in developing that constitution.
Anyone who tries to get Afghans to settle their problems by any means other than heavily armed violence faces a tough challenge. But if any conclusion is to be drawn from America’s miserable 12 years of involvement in Afghanistan, it is that only a political solution will allow the United States to walk away with its dignity intact.
No military victory is in sight, despite heavy commitments of U.S. forces and funding. The idea that Taliban forces would be pushed out and replaced by a democratic, participatory government that would not include them turned out to be equally illusory.
The Obama Administration seeks to leave behind a relatively stable political situation that will permit Afghans to reject a return to the rigid Islamic regime that Taliban leaders imposed when they were in power. But the Taliban, who lack a reputation for reasonableness, are now strengthened by Qatari money. And the duplicitous Mr. Karzai continues to watch out first for his own future, inside or outside Afghanistan.
Continued satellite and other surveillance will help ensure that no future al-Qaeda or other 9/11-type attack can be mounted against the United States from Afghanistan. In the meantime, talks with the Taliban are a useful step toward seeking a positive outcome in that country.