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Can US and Taliban cut a deal in Afghanistan?

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"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.

Until recently, Pakistan appeared to be obstructing talks in order to dictate its own conditions: Any new government must be "friendly" to Pakistan and keep India at a distance. Speculation also swirled that Islamabad wanted Kabul to formalize the Durand Line, the border drawn by the British in the 19th century between the two countries, which Afghanistan has never formally recognized.

"First we have to reach a peace agreement with Pakistan, then reach a deal with the Taliban," says Khalid Pashtoon, a member of Afghanistan's parliament from Kandahar, reflecting the common perception that any peace deal goes through Islamabad.

Karzai has made several goodwill gestures toward Pakistan, including dismissing a pro-India intelligence chief, inking a transit agreement with Pakistan, and making Islamabad the first stop of his new High Peace Council.

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