News / Asia

Afghan President to Visit Washington Amid Efforts to Reconcile with Taliban

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai comes to Washington for talks with President Obama next week, amid the Afghan leader's efforts to reconcile with the Taliban.  Some foreign policy analysts in Washington say various differences over the timing and level of the reconciliation still persist.

President Obama's surprise visit to Kabul in March led to some tension with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

It was triggered by Mr. Obama's open criticism of the Afghan leader's efforts to combat corruption.

The tension has somewhat eased now, and Mr. Karzai will be looking for support for his efforts to reconcile with some of the senior Taliban leaders.

But Tony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the Taliban leadership has no reason to talk at this time.

"When it comes to the top of the Taliban, we need to understand, since at least 2004, they have seen constant progress," said Cordesman.  "They have no reason to reconcile or make compromises. You don't do this when you are winning."

Marvin Weinbaum at the Middle East Institute says he doubts Mr. Karzai is serious when he talks about involving top Taliban leaders.

"I think that President Karzai's interest in talking to the Taliban is simply a way of distracting people from the pressure that he gets from the international community," noted Weinbaum.  "He is playing the nationalist card. I don't think that he has a serious concept that he is going to strike a deal with the Taliban."

Analysts also note that the Taliban leadership is not unified. So Cordesman says any reconciliation will not be at the top, but at the level of provinces and districts. But that too, he says, is fraught with serious differences.

"You have U.S. experts, British experts, and ISAF experts who disagree. You have an excellent new head of UNAMA who is looking at this issue and bringing the United Nations into this for the first time," added Cordesman.

But he says during the Obama-Karzai talks, a broad outline of the future strategy should emerge.

"There will be a host of compromises and agreements which won't be announced. And there will be a list of un-reconciled differences," said Cordesman.  "A few may hit the press, but most are not going to be made public."

The Obama administration, so far, has opposed a full reconciliation, saying it is okay to bring in only the low-level foot soldiers, and that too after the latest offensive in Kandahar.

"The operation in Kandahar is not going to be a conventional offensive," said General David Petraeus.  "It is rather a series of precise operations."

The Obama administration hopes the offensive could weaken the Taliban over the next six to 12 months.  But Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, disagrees.

"It is out of question that we can break the Taliban insurgency in Kandahar, the city or the province. It is totally out of question," said Dorronsoro.

Mr. Karzai and many Afghans fear that if Washington waits too long to decide about talking to the Taliban,  Pakistan's army and intelligence service will take control, as they did in the 1990s after the Soviet forces withdrew and Washington abandoned Afghanistan.

Most Afghans oppose any major role for Pakistan in their country, as do most regional powers, such as India, Iran, Russia and the five Central Asian republics.

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