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Talking with the enemy: Obama, Taliban negotiate Afghanistan's future (+video)

With the US and Taliban due to open talks, Obama's idea of negotiating an end to the Afghanistan war faces its big test. Fortunately, the Taliban will also be tested to face the new Afghan realities.

US President Barack Obama said Wednesday he always expected "friction" at Afghan reconciliation talks but voiced hope they could still take place.
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The key to ending America’s war in Afghanistan has long been a negotiated deal with the Taliban. Finally, such talks will begin Thursday in Qatar.

If they go well, the talks will serve primarily as a test of how much the Taliban have accepted the new realities of progress in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Much has changed since 2001 when the militant group’s ruthless rule ended with an American-led invasion to oust Al Qaeda.

The talks, however, will also be a test of President Obama’s idea of keeping an “open door” to negotiating with even the most repressive, violent groups and countries. He laid out this strategy in a 2009 speech, saying jihadist groups like the Taliban should be willing to accept that the purposeful killing of innocents goes against every major religion.

Peace, he said, relies on the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. “Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature,” he said. With the Taliban’s move to open talks, Mr. Obama said this is “an important first step towards reconciliation” among Afghans.

The Taliban has shown a few signs that they may have altered their ways. To meet a US condition for the talks, they committed to a peaceful end to the war. And they agreed that they never want “to pose harm to other countries from [their] soil,” although that falls short of cutting ties to a much-weakened Al Qaeda. They also dropped their demand that US troops leave Afghanistan before talks start.

In addition, the group’s fighting capability is down from a few years ago, while the capability of Afghan forces has improved. They have lost some support from Pakistan, where civilian rule, democracy, and a desire for economic growth have strengthened, weakening the military’s ability to use the Taliban as a strategic tool against India.

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