Afghanistan's government and Pakistan's military and intelligence services are moving forward toward cutting deals with senior Afghan insurgents, filling a vacuum created by American skepticism.
In the last few weeks senior Afghan officials have met with the head of Pakistan's army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to talk about the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura, two leading Afghan insurgent groups whose leadership are believed to be hiding inside Pakistan.
The Afghan government has tried to seize momentum created by a recent peace assembly in Kabul, and Pakistan has quickly become more willing to talk after the forced resignations of two senior Afghan officials skeptical of reconciliation efforts, according to Afghan and Pakistani officials.
At the same time, the United States has become increasingly publicly doubtful of the concept of reconciling with high-level insurgent leaders. Afghan officials seem nonplussed by the American skepticism, and are moving forward on multiple fronts, despite the American insistence that talks begin only after the U.S. military creates momentum in the Taliban's heartland.
"The biggest tragedy for the United States is, 'Why are we not in the middle of things?,'" says a senior Afghan government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the government's reconciliation efforts.
A Western official in Afghanistan says he believes the Karzai government is losing faith in the West's ability to bring security to Afghanistan, and is therefore increasing its attempts to reach out to Pakistan to create peace talks. The official said the Karzai government's latest indication of a lack of Western commitment to Afghanistan came from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who last weekend announced he wanted all British troops out of Afghanistan within five years.
Believing the only way to bring peace in Afghanistan is cutting a political deal, the Afghan government has been working with the Pakistani military and the ISI to begin dialogues with senior insurgent leaders. The focus right now seems to be on the father/son team of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, who live in the Pakistani tribal areas and largely control a corridor from eastern Afghanistan all the way into Kabul.
"We don't need to deal with Haqqani directly. We can deal with the ISI," says the senior Afghan government official.
The ISI and the Pakistani military have long maintained links to the Haqqani network, which, unlike other terror groups, have never attacked targets in Pakistan. That has meant the relationship remains intact.
"Pakistan has the ultimate card for the Afghan solution," said a Pakistani intelligence official.
Siraj Haqqani, who is an experienced negotiator and will likely expect something in return for any deal, has been directly involved in the talks, the intelligence official said.
Asked how far along the talks were, the Afghan senior official would only say that the talks with the Pakistani leadership and the Haqqani network "are all the way to the top."