Still, the prospects for peace remain dim. In an interview with Al Jazeera on June 19, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Sohail Shaheen clearly stated that the Taliban will continue to pursue its military campaign, even as it entertains the idea of peace talks. That same day, Taliban rockets killed four NATO soldiers at Bagram Airfield, located just north of Kabul. While the press and commentators have been quick to criticize the Taliban for this contradiction, the United States is, ironically, pursuing the exact same strategy. Earlier this week, Obama reiterated that the United States will "remain fully committed to our military efforts" and that peace talks will be pursued "in parallel with our military approach." Both sides are playing the same double game -- one that makes a mockery of the peace process and leaves Afghans dodging bullets in the crossfire.
This is not the first time that the opportunity for a more peaceful route in Afghanistan has taken a backseat to political optics. In 2001, the George W. Bush administration flatly ruled out the possibility of talks with the Taliban about handing over Osama bin Laden, despite repeated offers from Taliban officials. Instead, it opted for what it thought would be a swift and decisive defeat of the militant organization. Granted, it may have been hard to imagine the United States seriously pursuing talks with the Taliban with the shock of the September 11th attacks only barely in the rearview mirror. But now, 12 years later, it is equally hard to imagine a decisive American victory.
And now, the Taliban appear to have the upper hand entering any peace talks with the United States and Afghan government. The United States is desperate to exit the war as soon as possible, and has apparently realized peace talks are the only viable option. Karzai, meanwhile, is desperate to leave office in 2014 with a legacy that features securing some level of peace for his country. Only the Taliban are able to carry on indefinitely at little political or military cost. The organization's limited resources and manpower have not hampered its ability to inflict massive damage on its enemies in the past, and are unlikely to be a limiting factor going forward. To paraphrase Mao Zedong, guerrilla warfare is the death of a thousand cuts.
Today, Karzai's frustration at being marginalized at the negotiating table is representative of the general dearth of Afghan voices shaping the future of the country. To date, these voices have been muffled or silenced by more powerful forces concerned with matters of domestic politics, be they legacy, power, or the desire to gracefully exit a botched war with honor intact. And while no party is willing to make concessions in order to pursue meaningful and constructive peace talks, they all claim to be fully committed to the peace process. There are perhaps no winners in this war, but the undeniable losers for over a decade have been, and will continue to be, the Afghan people.