Positive Signs in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON -- The "fighting season" has started in Afghanistan, with deadly attacks almost every day. But at the same time, diplomats see what one calls "hopeful signs" that a regional framework for peace talks with the Taliban may slowly be emerging.***************
A second positive trend is that India and Pakistan are speaking in similar language about their support for an Afghan-led negotiated settlement. An important signal came from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a May 13 speech in Kabul. He endorsed President Hamid Karzai's "process of national reconciliation" and said India "will respect the choices you make."
Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir used similar language Monday when he backed an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" peace process. He was echoing comments made in Kabul in April by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief. Indeed, on paper, there's little difference between the Indian, Pakistani and American positions supporting a negotiation that concludes with a Taliban agreement to renounce violence, reject al-Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution.***********
Singh's speech in Kabul got relatively little attention in the Western press. But diplomats noted this passage: "We hope that Afghanistan will be able to build a framework of regional cooperation that will help its nation-building efforts." That hope is shared by Marc Grossman, the new U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who has been pushing for a "diplomatic surge" on various fronts.
A third positive trend is on the battlefield itself. The U.S.-led coalition entered this fighting season having cleared several major Taliban strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, providing more leverage. There's some independent evidence that the Taliban is feeling the pressure.