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In Afghanistan, as the U.S. and NATO draw down their forces, the Obama administration continues to push for peace talks between the government of Hamid Karzai and the Taliban. But so far to no avail, as NPR's Shawn Carberry reports from Kabul.
SHAWN CARBERRY, BYLINE: For the last year and a half, the U.S. has been pushing the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a political solution to end the 12-year-old war. But every time it seems the parties are close to starting peace talks, a new demand or controversy arises and nothing happens. The latest came just last month when the Taliban finally opened a political office in Qatar, a move that was supposed to set the stage for negotiations.
But when the Taliban envoys gave that office the trappings of an embassy, a furious Hamid Karzai called off the talks and they have yet to be rescheduled. Amid the uncertain prospects, the Taliban have continued their annual summer offensive, staging major attacks in Kabul and elsewhere.
KATE CLARK: I think when you've got a war like this, it's actually easier to continue it than not.
CARBERRY: Kate Clark is senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think tank in Kabul.
CLARK: In some ways, it seems that you have to decide what this war's about first before you can make the peace.
CARBERRY: Clark argues it's not entirely clear anymore what the Taliban are fighting for. Is it the removal of foreign troops, the overthrow of the Karzai government, the creation of an Islamic emirate? The problem, say analysts, boils down to divisions within the Taliban leadership.
MICHAEL SEMPLE: As long as a significant swath of the Taliban believes that they are going to achieve a swift military victory after the U.S. departure, and there'll be no serious negotiations.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Michael Semple was a U.N. envoy to Kabul during the Taliban regime and is an expert on reconciliation issues in Afghanistan. He says one Taliban faction thinks the Afghan government will collapse after the withdrawal of NATO troops. Therefore, they believe they have more to gain of they keep fighting. But another faction believes a military victory's unattainable and that there's a risk of renewed civil war once NATO troops leave, with the Taliban becoming just one of many factions fighting for scraps of political power.
SEMPLE: If they do come to the conclusion that there's a severe risk of a civil war rather than a Taliban victory after 2014, then they are more likely to proceed with negotiations.
CARBERRY: But there are other obstacles. President Karzai says the Taliban must negotiate only with the Afghan High Peace Council, a body he handpicked. This does not sit well with the Taliban, says Kate Clark.
CLARK: They see the Karzai government as a puppet and not worth talking to.
CARBERRY: The Taliban have long insisted that they would only negotiate with the United States, but the Obama administration says peace talks must be among Afghans. Then there's the ongoing Taliban offensive, which makes peace talks even more unpalatable for many Afghans, especially the political opposition. Amrullah Saleh is a former intelligence chief in the Kabul government and was a leader in the anti-Taliban northern alliance.
AMRULLAH SALEH: Reconciliation cannot be a deal-making behind closed doors, between a political clique and an insurgency who has a massive history of atrocity in Afghanistan.
CARBERRY: Saleh says the High Peace Council members speak only for President Karzai and don't represent the Afghan people. Saleh says that if Karzai makes peace with the Taliban by giving them a share of government and backtracking on freedoms, women's rights or other laws, the Afghan people will not go along.
SALEH: If our enemy is brought through the window back, of course we will fight.
CARBERRY: Despite all these challenges, the U.S. still says there has to be a political solution to end the war, but even Secretary of State John Kerry isn't convinced the Taliban are ready to begin talks, let alone sign a peace agreement.
SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Nothing comes easily in this endeavor and we understand that, and the road ahead will be difficult, no question about it - if there is a road ahead.
CARBERRY: Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
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