Ahmed Rashid at his own website:
After eleven years of war the Taliban’s public declaration that they will hold talks with the United States in Qatar is a major breakthrough for the political process, for Afghanistan’s internal stability and for the relative peace that will be needed by the US and NATO in 2014 before they can exit Afghanistan in good order and without too much bloodshed.
The year-long clandestine talks brokered by the Germans, fostered by Qatar and eventually ending in direct meetings between US officials and Taliban representatives will hopefully lead to a major reconciliation with the Kabul regime. The Taliban’s present insistence that they will only talk with the Americans is not realistic in the long term, while Karzai’s recent policy flip-flops and contradictory statements belie the fact that he was kept in the loop every step of the way by the Germans. The talks will go ahead because there is no other alternative to ending the war.
The metrics of calculating how successful NATO forces have been on the ground combating the Taliban, despite heady announcements by NATO generals, are mired in considerable controversy and doubt. The ability of the Taliban, unlike al-Qaeda, to rebound from severe hits has proved them to be remarkably resistant to casualties, with a deep bench of commanders, logisticians, recruiters and administrators for their cause.