A new report, Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer, from the RAND Corporation says that the Washington should help to appoint a figure of international repute "with the requisite impartiality, knowledge, contacts, and diplomatic skills" to take charge of putting together and then orchestrating a negotiation process with the Taliban. Afghans should be at the centre of this process, but with several concentric rings of regional and other interested governments on the periphery.
Authors James Shinn and James Dobbins point out the paradox that America's chance of getting an acceptable agreement depends on it not needing one: "Only if Washington has an acceptable non-negotiated outcome in prospect will American diplomats have much chance of securing their negotiating objectives", they say. US diplomats should prepare for two futures: one negotiated, one not. And both aimed at preventing an al-Qaeda-linked regime coming to power in the country.
If negotiations fail, American military engagement will extend well beyond 2014. However, a promise to leave by an agreed date may be the carrot that will persuade the Taliban to enter meaningful negotiations.
The report also suggests that a UN peacekeeping force might be the best way to police any negotiated settlement in order to "set a high threshold for evasion by any party of its undertakings." It says that, as in Iraq, the US must:
include former insurgents in an enlarged coalition government;
promise to 'go home';
remain heaving engaged in the implementation of whatever accord is finally reached.
The authors say that the US should seek a UN-endorsed facilitator to promote agreement between the various parties, and that Bonn - or Geneva - would be a good location for peace talks. Doha is suggested as another possible location. "We recommend that only the Afghan parties take formal part in the core negotiations over their country’s future but that all of the major external stakeholders, including India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, conduct parallel, less formal discussions with a view to exercising convergent influence on the Afghan parties."
Not a lot new here, but coherent and well argued.