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article imageOp-Ed: Afghanistan reality check — No peace talks with the Taliban

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By Karl Gotthardt     Feb 4, 2013 in Politics
Washington - As the withdrawal deadline of US troops from Afghanistan nears, a key feature, peace talks with the Taliban have stalled. The negotiating office, which was to be set up in Qatar, is a no go, unless Hamid Karzai gets guarantees in writing from Qatar.
During his inauguration speech on January 21, 2013, President Obama gave notice that a decade of war is now ending, referring to the end of the war in Iraq and the transition for security to Afghan security forces.
The United Jerusalem Foundation says that there is still no deal on opening an office in Qatar to negotiate with the Taliban. Hamid Karzai said that there will be no deal unless Qatar agrees with his conditions in writing.
When President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced Jan. 11 that a negotiating office for the Taliban was about to open in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, optimism soared within the administration that peace talks would soon be back on track.
But January’s optimism has become February’s reality check: There is still no agreement to open the office, and Karzai, back in Kabul after his Washington visit, says there will be no deal until Qatar meets his conditions in writing.
A smooth transition to peace and withdrawal from Afghanistan was based on the premise that the Taliban would come to the negotiating table and be a partner in any forthcoming peace. During his visit to Washington on January 11, 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama hammered out many details, which outlined the "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA), which would give immunity from Afghan prosecution for any residual US troops after the withdrawal.
Without some kind of political initiative underway, the US administration fears that it will be accused of abandoning the region, as was the case during the Soviet departure in 1990. With the summer fighting season just months away, Taliban leaders have become stubborn, setting their own conditions for a peace. Without the participation of the Taliban in any peace negotiations, it is unlikely that there will be a lasting peace. The country could easily erupt into a civil war.
With the tribal nature of Afghanistan's society, the Taliban will want a piece of the power pie of the country. With President's Karzai's inability or unwillingness to get an agreement on his conditions with Qatar, the whole peace process is in limbo, as is the administrations strategy.
The Washington Post says that the challenges are formidable.
The challenges, some of which lie within the administration, are formidable. Those who won first-term internal debates over an agreement on peace talks worry that the military, long opposed to negotiations, will dig in its heels as new members of the president’s national security team are brought up to speed. The summer fighting season in Afghanistan, always an inauspicious time for talking with the Taliban, is just months away.
Taliban leaders have been stubborn, setting their own conditions for resuming negotiations with the United States, which came to an abrupt halt early last year. The insurgents are seen as divided between those who want to wait out the American departure and those who think it’s time to start on a political path.
The transition and withdrawal process have been set in motion and there is little doubt that it will be executed. The pace of withdrawal has not been determined, however the Pentagon has indicated that it will not affect the summer fighting season. What is yet to be determined is the kind of peace that will exist in Afghanistan.
The SOFA will be approved. The US has already agreed to hand over control of its detention facilities to Afghan authorities and is pulling US troops out of Afghan villages. Afghan Security Forces, for now, are taking the lead in operations against insurgents and the Taliban. Last week was one of the few weeks where the US and NATO reported no casualties, whether this is related to the winter fighting pause or not remains to be seen.
The road ahead seems to be a difficult one, one can only hope that 11 years of fighting have not been in vain. The coast in both civilian and military lives has been too high.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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