There may be a dim, but brightening, beacon, at the end of the Afghan tunnel. At least that's what the UN's emissary to Afghan conflict, Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, conveyed to a group at a private meeting held by the International Peace Institute, an independent think-tank in New York City, last Thursday September 30th. Mr. De Mistura, a distinguished 38 year career official of the organization who is in his seventh month in Kabul, said that, while the Taliban have never admitted it, he believes they have concluded that they cannot win the war militarily. This may be a self-serving message for a UN official to transmit, but De Mistura, a dual citizen of Italy and Sweden, is considered one of the UN's star diplomats and would not necessarily wish to place the organization in the position of claiming progress if they was none.
De Mistura feels that the Taliban have realized that they can no longer take over Afghanistan again because they are so disliked by the Afghan people as a result of their catastrophic half-decade in power that saw minimal progress, the persecution of women, the general repression of the citizenry, and a deadly alliance with Al Qaeda. Many Taliban, he says, have bitterly learned their lessons from their behavior and have changed, even to the point of distancing themselves from Bin Laden and his vicious warriors. In addition, he argues, in any case, there are now four or five different Taliban factions - nationalists, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, and outsider groups, which further splinters the movement. Also neighboring countries who fear the Taliban will make sure at all costs that the insurgents do not retake control of the country. Finally there are foreign troops from some 47 countries in Afghanistan, making a takeover at the moment a virtual impossibility. De Mistura thinks that, by July 2011, the date set by President Obama for the beginning of US withdrawal, the reconciliation process will have been completed, leading to a peace settlement. Those dealings will assure the Taliban's agreement to the Afghan constitution, the laying down of arms, and its recognition of the rights of women. The first step, he notes, is already being taken by the Afghans through the Karzai government's High Peace Council that is reaching out for talks with the Taliban; in time, there will also be discussions with regional powers; and a final resolution will be reached under a global umbrella. The next ten months, he says, will be rough as both sides jockey for the strongest position. But this is the "make it or break it" time for the war to end.