Is anyone really talking with the Taliban?

It is always difficult to get a fix on negotiations that necessarily occur behind the scenes, even if “secret” is a category that rarely holds tight these days.  Talks, or non-talks, or talks about talks, held while fighting is still going on are particularly hard to fathom.

Afghanistan Analysts Network offers a blog blow by blow of recent action:

Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit takes a hard look at Kabul’s latest program and finds it lacking:  Peace At All Costs?  Reintegration and Reconciliation in Afghanistan, see

Crisis States Research Centre offers a UN-eyed perspective, but one that fails to cover events past 2008, even though it was published recently:

Best on the meaning of “reconciliation” in the Afghanistan context is still Michael Semple’s Reconciliation in Afghanistan:

The key question to ask about all of this is not the journalistic “who what where when why?”  More important is what the Americans might be offering as incentives for reconciliation.  Control over territory?  Positions in the Kabul government, or governors’ positions in the provinces?  A license to trade poppy?  Promises on withdrawal?

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Sudan is losing its race against time

Sudan’s two referenda–in the South and in Abyei–on January 9 are in the Rift Valley Institute’s words “the most critical events in the contemporary history of Sudan.”

Get ready for a rough ride as Southern Sudan looks to independence without having settled the many issues that threaten to disrupt the process laid out five years ago in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  No better primer than this one:

Race Against Time – Aly Verjee – 30 Oct 2010.pdf (application/pdf Object).

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Taliban v. Al Qaeda II

Scott Atran may think even the Haqqani network can be turned against al Qaeda, but Jeffrey Kressler over at the Institute for the Study of War does not (  His in-depth piece on the Haqqani network is worth a gander:

Haqqani_Network_Compressed.pdf (application/pdf Object).

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Kurds leaning towards Maliki

The Baghdad rumor mill today is putting the Kurds in Maliki’s camp, which would put him over the top arithmetically.  He would still need to harvest a few Iraqiyya votes for appearances’ sake, but that shouldn’t be impossible, and it might not take long.

This is not good news for Washington, which preferred a government built on a Maliki/Allawi foundation.  The one that seems to be emerging is built on a Maliki/Sadrist foundation, which is likely to be friendlier to Tehran and less able to keep disgruntled Sunnis inside the political process.

But it’s not over until the scruffily bearded guy sings.  Is this just one more turn in the eight-month process, or is this the finale?

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T.X. makes you wince

His piece on contractors is first-rate:

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Not so upbeat over on L street

Our friends at the Washington Institute are certainly sounding worried about Iraq:

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