The more conciliatory rhetoric from the Taliban side – to the extent it really is conciliatory – comes at a time when the US has been signaling that it, too, might be more open to talking to the enemy, and a new vision for a postwar Afghan government is emerging. Top officials from the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan reveal a common goal of resolving the underlying tensions that have torn Afghanistan apart for three decades – and at least the foundation of a shared vision for peace.
Under one scenario outlined by officials in all three countries in recent months, power would be rebalanced among all ethnic groups and warring parties, not just President Hamid Karzai's government and the Taliban. This would be attempted through a central coalition government and decidedly not by carving up Afghan territory among various factions.
Behind the nascent political movement on both sides may be weariness over a war that has now dragged on for a decade – longer than any conflict in US history. Neither side seems poised for a quick or complete victory, the killing of Mr. bin Laden and successes of the year-old US "surge" in southern Afghanistan notwithstanding. Al Qaeda has little operational role in the Afghan insurgency. And the Taliban have responded to losses in the rural south with a series of dramatic suicide attacks inside cities and coalition ranks.
There’s also a ticking clock. The Obama administration set 2014 as the deadline for withdrawing US troops from the country.
Yet forging a peace won't be easy in a land that has lived by the sword for centuries. The US is not likely to be easily impressed by the girls-education talk from insurgents who once beat women just because their socks slipped, revealing their ankles below their burqas. An even bigger question looms over whether the Taliban are ready and capable of entering a political process that favors messy compromise over the purity of holy war.
Still, the recent seemingly calculated comments from Taliban members at least suggest the emergence of a new pragmatism.