High-level peace talks between the Afghanistan government and Taliban representatives, first reported last week, are reportedly continuing apace with the tacit encouragement of the U.S. and NATO. The talks face many challenges, as we outlined last week, but if they succeed, convincing Taliban segments to disarm could be a major step forward for the U.S. goal of achieving enough stability to begin drawing down troop levels. Here's what's happening currently in the process, what it means, and what people think about it.

  • How The U.S. Is Helping  The New York Times' Thom Shanker, David Sanger, and Eric Schmitt report, "United States-led forces are permitting the movement of senior Taliban leaders to attend initial peace talks in Kabul, the clearest indication of American support for high-level discussions aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, senior NATO and Obama administration officials said. ... The United States was doing more to encourage a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan than officials had previously disclosed, and might reflect growing pessimism that the buildup of American forces there will produce decisive gains against the Taliban insurgency. ... Support for talks also comes as American officials have expressed a growing frustration with the complex role played by Pakistan, which provides safe haven for many insurgents and has ambitions of dictating the postwar political situation in Afghanistan."

  • Why U.S. Officials Are Pessimistic, Trying Anyway  The Wall Street Journal's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes write, "Military officials in Washington caution against unrealistic expectations for a peace deal. Because the Taliban movement is so fractious, even if some senior leaders agreed to a cease fire, it would be nearly impossible to get all the militants fighting in Afghanistan to lay down their weapons. But beginning talks could be advantageous to all players in the Afghan war. For Mr. Karzai, peace talks portray him as a statesman and could help cement his position at the head of the government, especially after American forces leave. For the U.S., even a partial reconciliation could bring a quicker end to a troubled military campaign that is increasingly unpopular at home."
  • Won't Happen Until Taliban Lose Fighting  Commentary's Max Boot writes, "There have been stories along those lines for years, and they haven’t gone anywhere, because the Taliban have no serious incentive to negotiate until they see that they are losing the war on the ground. ... I would caution against reading too much into any of this. It’s still early days, the full complement of surge forces having arrived in Afghanistan only last month. There is much hard fighting ahead, and many setbacks are certain. But at least there is now a sense that the war may be moving, however haltingly and slowly, in the right direction."
  • How Peace Talks Help in Battle  Reuters's Sayed Salahuddin explains, "Media reports of high-level talks between the Taliban and Afghan government may serve Western military aims by sowing confusion and undermining trust among insurgents, analysts and diplomats say. ... Coming as NATO-led forces make a push on the Taliban's spiritual heartland, the stories may -- intentionally or unintentionally -- further military aims. 'I had email contact with a Taliban on the other side (of the border) and he rejected the contact or talks, but at the same time spoke about the confusion,' said Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst and former Taliban official who is still in touch with members of the movement. 'This is more of the psychological war against the Taliban.'"
  • Afghan Media Express 'Deep Skepticism'  The Afghan Analysis Network surveys Afghan reactions. One representative example: "The English-language Kabul Weekly comments that ‘peace cannot be possible without all the players at the table, including their domestic, regional and other sponsors’. And it has ‘a couple [of] critical questions’ like: ‘Who will guarantee that these Taliban members will cut their ties with Al Qaeda, and is the Afghan public prepared to extend benefits to them?’ And further: ‘Assuming that the High Peace Council is able to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban without sacrificing essential values like freedom of speech, women's rights and other rights, then that will be a peace that everyone will welcome. After the three decades of war, the public will choose peace over other values because war is the greater evil. Despite deep skepticism, the Afghan public wants the council to succeed. […] But if the president's cronies manipulate the negotiations to consolidate their tribal power or to further their racist agendas, then peace will fail. […] Afghanistan's international supporters must keep this fact in mind.'"