Yet, in the weeks before bin Laden’s death, several moves occurred that could fortify the diplomatic track in Afghanistan even as the war enters a period that is expected to be particularly violent:
•Turkey has offered to let the Taliban open an office there, according to Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations and member of the High Peace Council, a body set up by Karzai to lead the peace process that includes both former Taliban members and warlords. This would establish a third-party location for talks to occur.
•Pakistan and Afghanistan have established a high-level commission to facilitate peace talks. This group has real decisionmaking power since it includes top elected officials, representatives of the foreign services, and – crucially in Pakistan – top representatives of the militaries.
Experts disagree over the degree of influence Pakistan has over the Taliban leadership. But most think that Pakistan can at least bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Pakistani officials themselves are cagey on the question, since they want to be seen as indispensable without being viewed as playing both sides in the conflict.
"We are very clear we don't want to be [at] the table...," says Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. "We would like to facilitate it, support it, in whatever way is possible."
•The US has signaled it is willing to talk. In a speech in February before the Asia Society in New York, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US is ramping up a "diplomatic surge" that follows increases in military and civilian deployments.