After his meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House on May 12, President Obama offered a cautious endorsement of Karzai's bid to reach out to so-called moderates within the Afghan Taliban camp by convening a "peace jirga," a national assembly of tribal elders, to try to achieve reconciliation between the Kabul government and rebel factions.
"The Taliban is a loose term for a wide range of different networks, groups, fighters, with different motivations," Obama said. "What we've said is that so long as there's a respect for the Afghan constitution, rule of law, human rights; so long as they are willing to renounce violence and ties to al Qaeda and other extremist networks; that President Karzai should be able to work to reintegrate those individuals into Afghan society."
"This has to be an Afghan-led effort, though," he stressed.
Should any hope be held out for the success of a jirga? Is it in the interest of Washington to give Karzai wide berth to pursue this step -- so much so that the U.S. should itself be prepared to play an active role in advancing this reconciliation process? Should Washington even be considering direct talks of its own with Taliban "moderates" -- given the Pentagon's bleak report in April to Congress finding that little progress has been made in the military campaign so far? Or is all this talk of reconciliation a chimera -- with the real task at hand a more determined U.S. military plan to crush all armed Taliban insurgents? As you consider this question, bear in mind that Obama has promised the American people that he will start to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by July 2011, a little over a year from today.