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.
"The talks that we are able to observe and comment on are the ones that involve everybody except the Taliban, and there's no coincidence in that," says Michael Semple, a Harvard University fellow, former diplomat, and informal mediator in the Afghan talks who frequently travels to the region. "I would say that in the contacts I have in the [insurgency] movement … they realize that politically something will happen – which is a change."
Bin Laden strike improves conditions for talks
In several ways, the knockout of bin Laden improves conditions for talks.
By sending helicopters across Pakistani territory and storming an urban compound, the strike sends a message to insurgent leaders that their havens are not so safe. It also creates an additional opportunity for the insurgency to cut links to Al Qaeda, says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political scientist based in Lahore, Pakistan.