After hitting southern Afghanistan with tens of thousands of additional soldiers in an effort to weaken a resurgent Taliban, the NATO-led military alliance is considering a plan to end the war by entering power-sharing negotiations with Taliban leaders and former fighters.
The scenario of a negotiated peace and a joint government involving the Taliban, once considered unlikely and controversial, is gaining momentum ahead of a critical summit on Afghanistan in London on Thursday.
Within a 24-hour period, senior figures in the Afghan government and the United Nations – and perhaps most startlingly, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan – all endorsed seeking some form of peace settlement with the Taliban, which has battled Western forces to a standstill in the war-torn southern provinces.
“As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting,” U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the senior NATO commander in the 42-nation Afghan mission, said in an interview with the Financial Times. “I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. And it's the right outcome.”
By saying that Taliban leaders could be included in a future Afghan government and suggesting that Afghans should “extend olive branches” to the insurgents, Gen. McChrystal has gone further than any previous U.S. commander.
Canada's position on talks with the Taliban has gradually evolved over the past four years, from complete rejection to the point where the Harper government now considers some kind of reconciliation necessary to lasting peace.
At a meeting in Istanbul yesterday ahead of the London conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters that he wants to begin negotiations with the more moderate of the several groups usually classified as “Taliban.”
“I will be making a statement at the conference in London to the effect of removing Taliban names from the United Nations sanctions list,” Mr. Karzai said.
Kai Eide, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, told The New York Times hours earlier that he wants to begin bringing the Taliban into talks on governing the country. “If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority,” he said. “I think the time has come to do it.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is organizing the 60-nation summit, said yesterday that he agrees with this approach, saying it is “right to believe that over the long term we can split the Taliban.”
Talks with Taliban gain traction in plan for Afghan peace - The Globe and Mail