Given that the U.S. is slated to withdraw 34,000 troops of its 66,000 member force from Afghanistan by this time next year, any news regarding the political development of the nation is something policy makers will likely have their eye on.
So it's no surprise that the Taliban-attended Paris Conference made international and U.S. headlines in December and January. But there was much qualification of Taliban participation in the conference; several news sources paraphrased statements by the Taliban liaison office in Qatar saying that this "will not be peace negotiation and there will be no secret agenda for the conference..." Attendees to the conference, which was organized by a French think tank called The Foundation for Strategic Research, included representatives of the Afghan Taliban, Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, members of Afghanistan’s parliament, and political groups that were earlier part of the Northern Alliance as well as figures who have been associated with the government.
Since January of 2012, formal and publicized talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States have largely focused on prisoner exchanges. There have also been talks between government officials in Afghanistan and the Taliban, but more recently discussions have included political figures in Afghanistan and Taliban representatives. The Paris Conference was preceded by a similar Conference in Tokyo; all are concerned with the future of Afghanistan, the legitimacy of its current constitution, and it's current government under President Hamid Karzai.
Taliban representatives maintain that the current constitution and government are not legitimate because they have been held up by the United States while Afghanistan was still under occupation. Taliban representatives also reaffirmed its leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s commitment to an "all inclusive Afghan government." Despite roadblocks to the peace process including but not limited to, differing viewpoints within the Taliban on how negotiations should play out, and the difficulties of US-Taliban talks over prisoners, the Obama administration has sought to push the Afghan government towards negotiation with the Taliban. As stated by the Al Jazeera press (author: Saba Imtiaz):
"After a meeting on January 11 between U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Obama said that the US backed the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks but that any reconciliation process must be Afghan-led. President Obama said that, 'It is not possible to reconcile without the Taliban renouncing terrorism, without them recognizing the Afghan constitution and recognizing that if there are changes that they want to make to how the Afghan government operates, then there is an orderly constitutional process to do that and that you can't resort to violence.'"
The potential peace process between the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan is discussed in detail in a February 2011 study conducted by researchers at NYU's Center on International Cooperation. The study focused on the divide between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in ideologies, goals, and cultural and social backgrounds. The report states that even finding a common enemy in the U.S. invasion could not erase this division and that the former Bush policy of considering the Taliban and Al-Qaeda one and the same created further obstacles to Taliban cooperation against Al-Qaeda. It is this line explored within the study that is important to consider when thinking about the unfolding (but currently lacking in concrete outcomes) peace process. Since the 2010 London Conference, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s message has rather consistently been to express his desire to create peace within the region. A quote from the 2010 London Conference sums it up:
"Our upcoming system will be based on mutual interactions with neighboring Islamic and non- Islamic countries. We want to frame our foreign policy on the principle that we will not harm others nor allow others to harm us. Our upcoming system of government will participate in all regional and global efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability..."
So after the dose of optimism; how realistic is the idea of creating a workable peace within Afghanistan, an agreed on Constitution and government as well as a leadership that eschews terrorism and aids the international community in eradicating it entirely? It seems that will be up to leadership in Afghanistan to find out and hopefully conferences similar to the one held in Paris in late December will continue. After all, lack of concrete take-aways aside, it can't hurt to sit down and talk.