It is only six months until presidential elections and 14 months until all international combat forces leave Afghanistan, yet a political settlement with the Taliban before then seems increasingly remote. Analysts, political leaders and negotiators say there is no end in sight to the more than decade long conflict that has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians.
The word on the street is that the Taliban are moving into villages closer to Kabul, but it is hard to verify. Analysts say the militants’ strength is due largely to massive government corruption and divisive ethnic politics.
A lack of political will by all the parties involved to reach a peace deal with the Taliban has also made things difficult, according to analyst Kate Clark.
“You have got the Taliban who will not speak to President Karzai and his government. President Karzai gets very upset if anyone else tries to make peace with the Taliban you have got a craven Taliban leadership who will not take choices to try and end the war, and you have got international forces who are busy walking away, and you know, everyone would really, really, like to forget about Afghanistan in the West,” said Clark.
The unlikelihood of a political settlement before the April 2014 presidential elections threatens the legitimacy of the vote, says Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official who is now a member of the Afghan High Peace Council.
“In this very confused situation, with the lack of security in this country, if we are going to the general election, that will not be a legitimate general election, that will not elect a legitimate president for the country,” warned Mujahid.
The war has made a select few wealthy, but for most Afghans it has taken a heavy toll.
“Every day we hear about someone being killed, people are fleeing their villages to the cities. People can not control the Taliban. Until the government and the Taliban talk, we will never have peace,” said Noor Agha, a resident of Puli Artan, in Kabul.
Afghanistan is a country awash with guns, and former military and intelligence officer Jawed Kohistani notes that there are several armed groups operating in the country.
"You can not please them all. You can satisfy one group. What about the others? The others will continue to fight," pointed out Kohistani.
The greatest worry is about what happens after the elections, and after international forces leave at the end of 2014. Analysts say the Taliban cannot win, but the Afghan state cannot defeat them; the result is still more war.