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The U.S. must move cautiously on Taliban reconciliation

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The Obama Administration is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban as it continues a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Following recent setbacks for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan — including nationwide protests sparked by the accidental burning of Korans and a U.S. staff sergeant’s shooting rampage that killed 17 Afghan civilians — the Taliban suspended negotiations with the U.S. Some observers had touted the Taliban’s earlier willingness to open a political office in Qatar as a major breakthrough for a political process.

However, the Taliban has not renounced terrorism or its support for al-Qaeda. Moreover, the Taliban leadership is seeking to exclude the Karzai government from the talks, which indicates that it is likely merely interested in having comrades released from prison, and is seeking to make a backdoor deal with the U.S. that allows them to regain power.

The building blocks for peace and stability in Afghanistan are not yet in place. The military gains made against the Taliban over the past 18 months are still fragile. While it may make sense for the Administration to keep doors open for negotiations with the Taliban, it would be unwise for the U.S. to make major concessions before the Taliban has renounced international terrorism and demonstrated willingness to compromise politically.

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