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.
As the Obama administration nears a decision on the pace of U.S. combat troop withdrawals from Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014, jump-starting reconciliation has become a key element of its exit strategy.
Without some kind of political initiative underway as its forces leave, the administration fears that the United States will again be accused of abandoning the region, just as it was at the end of the Soviet Union’s Afghan occupation in the early 1990s. If another civil war breaks out, as many fear, Afghanistan’s neighbors will again feel the need to choose sides.