Of late there are reports of "talks" about "talking" in Afghanistan. Supposedly, some Taliban leaders are in "talks" with the Karsai government about negotiating an end to the war.
The details are sketchy but most significantly the names of the Taliban "leaders" in attendance are being withheld (supposedly over fear of their being killed by other Taliban if their identity became known) and two leadership groups specifically mentioned as being intentionally excluded from the talks. They include Mullah Omar, the cleric who was the leader of the Afghan government when the U.S. invaded in 2001 (who still commands the allegiance and loyalty of many Taliban groups) and the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service that has supported the Taliban in the past and was instrumental in helping them to become the leaders in Afghanistan in the early 1990's (after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and after the civil war that ensued after the Soviets left).
The "talks" are shrouded in secrecy but what we do hear should be considered as "leaks" as no officials (Taliban, Karsai and American) are willing to go record and describe what is really being discussed in these "talks". It appears anyone who does say something is so unwilling to describe any details for fear (one supposes) they would be responsible for the "talks" disintegrating and amounting to nothing.
What does jump out to this observer is how do you negotiate an end to this conflict under the apparent conditions on the ground?
The American led effort to win the war isn't happening. The Karsai government is corrupt as ever and seen as illegitimate by most Afghans beyond the limits of Kabul. The various Taliban insurgents in opposition to the Americans and the Karsai quisling government are continuing to actively resist and show no signs of being withered and beaten. If anything the Taliban are spreading their presence and influence in areas (the North) that are not their traditional areas of control.
Looking at the current situation in Afghanistan, from this vantage point there are two recommendations that come to mind that seem needed if there are to be real negotiations to end this conflict.
!. There should be no pre-conditions before the talks begin.
2. All sides of the conflict need to be represented at the table.
Any pre-conditions for talks to begin are roadblocks to negotiations. In the past the Taliban has been unanimous in demanding the Americans leave the country before it will negotiate an end to the war. Meanwhile Karsai has said the Taliban must surrender their weapons before negotiations could begin. Obviously, neither demand produced negotiations to end the war.
Intentionally omitting Mullah Omar and the Pakistani ISI from the negotiations makes no sense. Considering their dominant influence over the Taliban leadership in the recent past (as well as currently) it seems essential they be included if any real negotiated settlement is to take place.
Wars are fought between antagonists who are totally opposed to each other. Wars that are in essential stalemate (as exists in Afghanistan with no clear winner dictating the terms of surrender to the vanquished other side) need every faction involved in the conflict to be represented at the table to hammer out a negotiated settlement.
This war isn't about to end with periphery figures doing the negotiating or anyone seen as lackeys to Karsai or the Americans dictating the terms and conditions. And that's what we seem to have now.