LIANE HANSEN, host:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai comes to Washington, D.C. Wednesday to meet with President Barack Obama and other members of his administration. In March, Mr. Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. He met with the Afghan president and expressed concern about the corruption within Mr. Karzai's government and wanted to see progress in good governance.
Here to discuss the stakes behind the upcoming talks between Presidents Obama and Karzai is Alexander Thier. He's the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace. Welcome to the program.
Mr. ALEXANDER THIER (Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan, United States Institute of Peace): It's a pleasure to be here.
HANSEN: First of all, whats on the agenda for these meetings?
Mr. THIER: There's really two big items on the agenda for this summit between the two presidents. The first is to repair the relationship between them. Things have gotten to a low, I think an all-time low, at least since 2001 between the United States and Afghanistan. And the two presidents, I think, both see an imperative in trying to repair both their personal relationship and the tenor of the relationship between the two countries.
The second thing is really from the Afghans, which is to come to Washington to talk about their plans to begin reconciliation talks with the insurgency. President Karzai has announced many times, particularly at the conference in London in January, that he wants to open talks with the Taliban, from foot soldiers all the way up to the top. He believes that this is a way that they might be able to solve the war. But the U.S. government has yet to endorse that strategy. And I think they're looking to hear what President Karzai's vision is and how they may be able to support that process.
HANSEN: Mr. Karzai was originally scheduled to open a peace jirga, or a council, last week, but he decided to come to Washington first. Elaborate a little bit about his plans for this peace council.
Mr. THIER: Well, this peace council, or jirga, as it's called, is intended to bring together about 1,500 Afghans from all over the country. It is not an attempt to engage the insurgents. They are not really invited to the council, or if they were, they're not coming. It's really to try and get all of those folks who aren't fighting against the government to come to some kind of consensus that it's okay for the government to begin talking to the insurgency. And thats really what President Karzai is trying to accomplish with that jirga.
HANSEN: And speaking of the insurgency, though, and now that the Taliban, for example, has really shown no interest in cooperating with President Karzai or the Western countries, what incentives are there for the Taliban to actually make peace with Karzai's government?
Mr. THIER: At the moment, I think the incentives are quite low. And, in fact, I think very few people are expecting the Taliban to come to the table in droves this year. If we're looking for Hamid Karzai and Mullah Omar to sign an armistice on an aircraft carrier, it's not going to happen, at least not this year. But part of the goal is really to start changing some of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. There are a few critical things that might happen this year that might end up bringing the Taliban to the table.
HANSEN: The Obama administration has said that U.S. troops could start withdrawing from Afghanistan as early as next year. Do you think the peace efforts, as well as the surge, can make Afghanistan safer and allow the U.S. to reduce its military role?
Mr. THIER: Well, thats the goal. I think the jury is still very much out on whether it's going to happen. At the end of this year, in December, we are going to have an evaluation. Thats what President Obama announced in his December speech of last year. And so, his administration really has seven months to start demonstrating a change in the momentum, so that July 2011 means something positive and not something negative.
HANSEN: Alexander Thier is the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace, and he spoke with us in our studios.
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