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Can US and Taliban cut a deal in Afghanistan?

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"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.

The ties between Afghan insurgents and global jihadi organizations are based more on interpersonal relationships rather than ideology, he says. One key relationship, the friendship between Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, is now removed.

“Some elements may be loyal to the ideals of Osama bin Laden. But I don’t think that kind of element within the Taliban movement can win the argument when they think about their strategic priorities with Osama gone and Al Qaeda not as potent a force,” says Dr. Rais.

On the US side, the demise of Al Qaeda’s figurehead has purged some fears among Americans of the group and exposed its current weakness. And having burnished his anti-terror credentials, President Obama would have wider domestic latitude to cut a peace deal that involved insurgents who are willing to swear off any ties to Al Qaeda.

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