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Secret US-Taliban talks reach critical juncture


December 20, 2011 - Washington

Washington, Dec.20 : Senior U.S. officials say their talks with the Taliban have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible.

They are hoping that the talks will lead to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war, the Daily Mail reports.

Failure would likely condemn Afghanistan to continued conflict, perhaps even civil war, after Nato troops finish turning security over to Afghan president Hamid Karzai's weak government by the end of 2014.

The U.S. has been in talks with the Taliban for ten months to release Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay

Success would mean a political end to the war and the possibility that parts of the Taliban - some hardliners seem likely to reject the talks - could be reconciled.

The effort is now at a pivot point.

Officials acknowledged that the Afghanistan diplomacy, which has reached a delicate stage in recent weeks, remains a long shot.

Among the complications: U.S. troops are drawing down and will be mostly gone by the end of 2014, potentially reducing the incentive for the Taliban to negotiate.

The reconciliation effort, which has already faced setbacks including a supposed Taliban envoy who turned out to be an imposter, faces hurdles on multiple fronts, the U.S. officials acknowledged.

Critics of President Obama's peace initiative are deeply sceptical of the Taliban's willingness to negotiate given that the West's intent to pull out most troops after 2014 would give insurgents a chance to reclaim lost territory or nudge the weak Kabul government toward collapse.

While the United States is expected to keep a modest military presence in Afghanistan beyond then, all of Obama's 'surge' troops will be home by next fall and the administration - looking to refocus on domestic priorities-is already exploring further reductions.

If the effort advances, one of the next steps would be more public, unequivocal U.S. support for establishing a Taliban office outside of Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said they have told the Taliban they must not use that office for fundraising, propaganda or constructing a shadow government, but only to facilitate future negotiations that could eventually set the stage for the Taliban to re-enter Afghan governance.

ANI

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