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.
"Now, I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable. And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends," said Secretary Clinton. "But that is not how one makes peace. President Reagan understood that when he sat down with the Soviets."
•The biggest breakthrough, however, may be a convergence between the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even Hizb-e-Islami, one of the insurgent groups, about what the goal is: a balanced government for a unified Afghanistan.