As he concluded his eighth round of negotiations with the Taliban on August 12th, Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s envoy for Afghan peace talks, did not quite say that a deal allowing the extraction of American troops was done. But he came close. After “productive” discussions in the Qatari capital of Doha, the two sides were down to “technical details”, he said. It has taken a year of formal meetings to arrive at this point (and years of quiet chats before that). But it is too soon to celebrate. Those details will be devilish.
The talks involve a relatively straightforward bargain. America will start pulling its 14,000 troops out of Afghanistan. In return the Taliban will promise that Afghan territory will not become a staging ground for international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State. That would satisfy the main demand of Taliban insurgents, and address the problem that led America to invade 18 years ago. “I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war,” Mr Khalilzad tweeted, referring to this week’s Muslim festival (Kabul residents marking it are pictured).
But those negotiations were “the easy part”, says Laurel Miller, a former State Department official now with the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. Mr Khalilzad also wants the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire. And he expects the Taliban to talk to other Afghans about a political settlement and, by early September, agree on a loose “road-map” towards achieving one. That, the Americans hope, would obviate the need for presidential polls that are due to be held in Afghanistan on September 28th and that are likely to result in the usual bickering over alleged electoral fraud.
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