Time to Talk to the Taliban?

Karzai to discuss issue in Washington ahead of Kabul peace jirga.

ByABC News
May 9, 2010, 2:04 PM

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2010 -- When Afghan President Hamid Karzai sits down with President Obama at the White House this week, the two leaders will discuss the timing and the conditions for negotiating with the Taliban.

"Certainly the topic of reintegration, reconciliation, is one that will be high on this week's agenda," Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said. "I think there's a clarity right now between our two governments about what the common principle should be, as Afghanistan moves forward with reconciliation."

The U.S., officially at least, is willing to allow negotiations with the Taliban.

"I think the Afghanistan government and the Afghan people are looking for reconciliation and reintegration with those anti-government forces. I think the U.S. government is supporting that," retired British Lt. General Graeme Lamb, who was brought on by International Security Assistance Force as a special adviser on the issue, told ABC News recently.

The Americans have expressed doubts in the past about when to begin peace talks with the Taliban.

Just a little over a month ago, Defense Secretary Gates told Congress that he thought it was too soon to talk to the leaders of the Taliban.

"It's probably early yet for the more senior levels, that the shift of momentum is not yet strong enough to convince the Taliban leaders that they are in fact going to lose. And it's when they begin to have doubts about whether they can be successful that they may be willing to make a deal. And I don't think we're there yet," Gates said during a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on March 25.

U.S. officials hope its next major military campaign in Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, will decisively turn the momentum against the Taliban. In addition, President Obama's 30,000 additional U.S. troops surge will not be fully implemented until early fall.

Karzai has long been eager to reconcile with the Taliban. He had scheduled a peace jirga, or a traditional Afghan consultative assembly, for early May when he and Education Minister Faruk Wardak hoped to invite around 1,500 influential Afghans to discuss the political future of Afghanistan, as well as how to strike a peace deal with the Taliban.

Lamb said that he would assume there would be at the jirga "people there that represent elements of the insurgency."

The jirga was rescheduled at the last minute until after Karzai's visit to Washington this week.

U.S. officials have only recently begun expressing couched support for the national peace jirga. U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David Petraeus said April 13 that the jirga was "very, very important" because it will "produce the kind of national consensus that is essential to empowering the Afghan government, indeed, to carry out meaningful reintegration of lower and mid-level Taliban leaders, over time."

Petreaus' statement did not mention top level members of the Taliban, which would be essential in any peace talks.