New push for peace starts in Afghanistan

New York Times News Service /


KABUL, Afghanistan — Suddenly, the effort to strike a deal with the Taliban is very publicly back on the front burner.

Frozen for months last year as another fighting season raged in Afghanistan, and as election-year politics consumed U.S. attention, diplomats and political leaders from eight countries are now mounting the most concerted campaign to date to bring the Afghan government and its Taliban foes together to negotiate a peace deal.

The latest push came early this month at Chequers, the country residence of the British prime minister, David Cameron, who joined President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in calling for fast-track peace talks. Weeks earlier in Washington, Karzai met with President Barack Obama and committed publicly to have his representatives meet a Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar, to start the process.

Yet so far the energized reach for peace has achieved little, officials say, except to cement a growing consensus that regional stability demands some sort of political settlement with the Taliban.

Interviews with more than two dozen officials involved in the effort suggest a fast-spinning process that has yet to gain real traction and seems to have little chance of achieving even its most limited goal: bringing the Afghan government and Taliban leadership together at the table before the bulk of the U.S. fighting force leaves Afghanistan in 2014.

The major players however — Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and the Taliban — have fundamentally different visions of how to achieve a post-2014 peace, according to accounts of setbacks in the process.