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Mission Afghanistan: Strike a deal with the Taliban and get out

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced over the weekend that talks between the U.S administration, the Afghan government and the Taliban "have started already" and are "going well," officially confirming what everyone already knows.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced over the weekend that talks between the U.S administration, the Afghan government and the Taliban "have started already" and are "going well," officially confirming what everyone already knows.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce in July the number of U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Karzai speaks

The Afghan president has been speaking forcefully in recent months, including some harsh words for the United States. A day before his speech, three Taliban fighters attacked a police compound in Kabul, killing nine.

He said that foreign powers are "using our country" in their national interest and that their weapons "pollute the environment." There is also growing antagonism between U.S. and NATO troops in the country, i.e. between the U.S. and its European allies.

Clearly, Karzai is not just preparing for the withdrawal of American troops; he is positioning himself in the role of national leader. A Pashtun and a southerner (the heartland of the Taliban), Karzai could theoretically broker an agreement.

Kabul's policy is to persuade the Taliban to accept the reality that has taken shape in the country in the ten years since their overthrow by the U.S.-led coalition in 2001, as well as to acknowledge the need for a free press, women's rights and democracy in general. Karzai is as exasperated by the foreign military presence as anyone in Afghanistan, so there is no reason to doubt that his efforts to make peace with the Taliban are sincere.

Kissinger speaks

Negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban are being hosted by Germany and Oman (evidently in those countries). The media first reported this one month ago. On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed in comments on Karzai's speech.

There have been no hints about the substance of those talks nor the participants. There has been speculation that Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader, is involved in the talks. Omar was the head of the state at the start of the invasion in 2001, and has a stature no less than bin Laden. Bin Laden's death was followed by a slight flurry of speculation in the media that Omar, too, had been living in Pakistan the whole time, but then mysteriously vanished.

It was Henry Kissinger, the most respected foreign policy figure in the U.S over the past 50 years., who in his recent article, "How to Exit Afghanistan", both mentioned the talks and indicated that Mullah Omar's people are involved.

He writes in the article that there is a national search for an exit strategy, with more than 70% of Americans in favor of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. In this type of situation, what is most important is how agreements on what follows the withdrawal are fulfilled. The Taliban would like to stymie these agreements. So an international strategy is needed to maintain the status quo in view of the fact that practically all countries in the region and its neighbors - Russia, India, China and others - want this status quo. One cannot exit without such a strategy, because a regional war may flare up. Formulating this strategy would mean at the same time formulating a new role for the U.S. in the world after the Cold War.

Kissinger always commands attention in the U.S., and now more than ever. It was Kissinger who oversaw the U.S. withdrawal from a similar war in Vietnman, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

In the spring of 1975 U.S. embassy officials were airlifted by helicopters from the roof of the embassy in Saigon, in a striking symbol of U.S. failure. But four years previously Kissinger was in China. The war in Vietnam was fought between the U.S. and China to the same extent as between the U.S. and the USSR. The strained relations between the two Communist powers had no effect on the situation in Vietnam. But Kissinger deepened the wedge between the two. Thanks to his efforts, Washington recognized China, President Richard Nixon visited Mao Zedong in Beijing and the USSR became the strategic loser.

You can win the battle and lose the war. Kissinger lost the war but won the world for America.

No choice but withdrawal

It's hard to see the 88-old retiree - and a Republican at that - pulling off a similar miracle today. An international agreement on Afghanistan has yet to be achieved. But a statement on the withdrawal of U.S. troops cannot wait.

Barack Obama named July 2011 as the start date of the drawdown of U.S. forces after a long and painstaking debate in the beginning of his term in 2009. It was decided first to add 30,000 troops (now they number 100,000), deal the Taliban a crushing blow and then, beginning July 2011, start gradually pulling them out.

Should the plan be revised, especially now that the Republican House of Representatives is trying to bring Obama to account for getting the U.S. involved in the strange Libyan operation without consulting Congress?

That would be difficult, perhaps impossible. So the question now is only how quickly to leave and what to leave behind.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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