For weeks, the international news media has been filled with reports about high-level peace talks between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government. Some reports even have the U.S./NATO mission to Afghanistan actively aiding the peace process. But a number of ever-skeptical Afghanistan-watchers are warning that the prospects for effective peace talks, or even the existence of those talks themselves, might be overblown at best or, at worst, a ruse designed primarily to create confusion within the Taliban. Here's their case.

  • U.S. Officials Tell Reports: No Talks Under Way  McClatchy's Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel report, "Despite news reports of high-level talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, no significant peace negotiations are under way in Afghanistan, U.S. officials and Afghanistan experts said Thursday. These same experts said the reports, which appeared in a number of U.S. media outlets, could be part of a U.S. 'information strategy' to divide and weaken the Taliban leadership. 'This is a psychological operation, plain and simple,' said a U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's outreach effort."
  • Conditions Point Away From Peace Talks  Michael Semple warns in the Financial Times, "Hitherto most observers have correctly noted that the situation in Afghanistan remains unfavourable for deal-making. The Taliban feel confident that they have extended their influence, and can ride-out their adversaries. Meanwhile the increased tempo of Nato operations has taken its toll on their leadership, likely checking their military momentum. ... All of this makes the chance of a peace deal in the near future low. Even so there are still good reasons to begin laying groundwork while the fighting continues, not least because the impact of the military campaign on Taliban willingness to negotiate is ambiguous at best."
  • 'Media Blitz' Lacks Substantiation  The Global Post's Jean MacKenzei questions "whether or not there is any substance behind the buzz." Despite a lack of evidence, "the media blitz has been almost unprecedented: Everyone from The New York Times to U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus has been making mysterious references to promising signs that are evident only to those in the know. It has all the earmarks of a carefully orchestrated play aimed at creating the illusion of success, something that longtime Afghan watchers have been quick to point out."
  • How Military 'Messaging' Undermines Everything  The Columbia Journalism Review's Joshua Foust cautions, "These sorts of coordinated media campaigns—called 'messaging' in military parlance—have been going on for years. Two years ago, I wrote in CJR about another such campaign. ... Away from the military’s spin machine, reality is nothing so upbeat. ... This disconnect between military spin and ground reality is not only dangerous, it is insulting: Americans can handle the truth about the war their government is fighting. Whitewashing the real challenges and problems we face can only make us worse off: it will make our eventual withdrawal more humiliating and surprising, and it will create a need in the public to know what went wrong."
  • Just 'Spin' In Advance of Planned Drawdown  Afghanistan expert Thomas Ruttig reacts to a recent new story about peace talks. "This is not to say that the Washington Post is wrong. ... But it is similarly possible that these sources are part of all the spin which we are already getting and which will further build up during this so-called transition phase up to 2014 (if the Washington agenda works out). ... If these ‘preliminary talks’ are what CNN calls a 'new phase in making peace’ (read this report here), then it is only one of many, protracted phases to come."
  • These Stories Are Likely 'PsyOps'  Blogger Steve Hynd writes, "The longer this psyops goes on, promising talks and hinting of breakthroughs, the more it will undermine the alternative narrative that the Taliban have to be pounded into submission by military force first before they will come to the negotiating table. If by July 2011 no senior Taliban have "cracked", then those who have authorized and perpetrated this psyops ploy - basically lying in the hope of making the lie true - are going to be in some deep caca, career-wise. Even the Teflon General [Petraeus] might not be able to sidestep the splatter."

You know what i think? I think Pakistan is not "being included in talks" with the Taliban b/c there are no real talks. That's what I think.less than a minute ago via web