It is the most deliciously Machiavellian undertaking in years. It's also inscrutable and scary. I refer, of course, to this week's spate of revelations that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is conducting a variety of secret talks with the Taliban, or parts thereof. Now, obviously, whatever these noble explorers are doing, it is no longer secret and it is almost certainly more a game than a serious negotiation. It takes a divining rod to decipher exactly what all the various parties, including not only the Afghans but also the Pakistanis and our very own American leaders, are scheming to do. It is very hard to believe that any of them is now seeking a negotiated settlement. It is very easy to believe that they are all up to something tricky. Among those most alarmed by these secret talks are the American hawks, who suspect and fear that an unconscionable sellout of U.S. interests is afoot. And yet, if there is a way out of this war--short of expending another decade of blood and treasure--it has to include trying to talk to the devil.
Follow the bouncing ball of secret contacts all mysteriously made public this week: The Washington Post outed meetings between Karzai's representatives and the Quetta Shura, the main Taliban group headed by Mullah Omar, who ran Afghanistan in the good old days before the 9/11 attacks and who is presumably still the top dog. The Post identified its squealers as “anonymous Afghan and Arab sources.” Then today, The Guardian exclaimed that Karzai's people met with the even more loathsome Haqqani Network, nominally headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, and that even Washington held “indirect talks with the Haqqani clan through a Western intermediary.” Their squealers were “well-placed Pakistani and Arab sources.” Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal reported that “retired Pakistani security chiefs and former Taliban leaders are meeting in Kabul, trying to find ways to open peace talks with the insurgents—possibly by dropping key Western-backed conditions to such a reconciliation.” The talks are being sponsored by the United Arab Emirates, presumably the leakers of their virtuous efforts.