The Obama administration, as part of an accelerated push toward anendgame in Afghanistan, last month reached a tentative accord with Taliban negotiators that would have included the transfer of five Afghans from US detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Taliban’s public renunciation of international terrorism.
The deal called for the prisoners to be sent to house arrest in Qatar, where the Taliban planned to open an office, and additional actions by both sides, according to US and European officials who would discuss the sensitive negotiations only on the condition of anonymity. Until now, no Guantanamo detainees have left the prison as bargaining chips in a larger deal.
It was the closest that the parties have come to genuine peace negotiations after nearly a year of talks, officials said. They said the agreement ultimately collapsed after Afghan President Hamid Karzai balked at its terms.
“Right now, things have stopped,” said a senior Obama administration official. “Everybody is taking a deep breath.” Contacts with the Taliban are expected to be reestablished early in the new year.
The negotiations reflect a marked change over the past year in what the administration believes is both acceptable and achievable in Afghanistan, apart from the core objective of eliminating al-Qaeda and the possibility that it could reestablish an Afghan presence.
Disappointment in the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, economic and political pressures at home, and sheer fatigue with the decade-long effort have led to lowered expectations as the United States and its allies head toward the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.
The need to fashion a comprehensive, realistic exit strategy was also underlined in a newly completed National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, a classified assessment produced by US intelligence agencies.
In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post