Anand Gopal of the Christian Science Monitor kindly responded to last week's post on the so-called negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban and the Haqqanis. Anand notes that last year's "negotiations" in Saudi Arabia clarified that what really is going on here is simply contact and one-sided peace plans destined to go nowhere, and not meaningful negotiations:
I came across your Weekly Standard piece and I think it raises a really important question. You are right--in October I wrote that there were no negotiations. This is because the meeting in Mecca was between former Taliban and the government, and there were no actual Taliban present. Without the two antagonistic sides, we can't really call it negotiations in any way. What happened over the next months is that this group of former Taliban reached out to the current group. They did so by putting forth a set of terms that the Taliban would accept but that we in the west would never agree to (such as stopping key counter-insurgency methods like house raids). So then the Quetta Shura (Mullah Bradar specifically) and the Haqqanis came around.
But the fundamental point is that as long as extremely slanted deals like this one get proposed, groups like the Haqqanis will be open to talking. Absurdly, the deals don't even ask for the insurgents to stop fighting or planting bombs.
The way I see it is that neither side has really publicly offered anything to the other side except surrender, disguised as "negotiations". The government has said that the Taliban should respect the constitution and drop their arms, which would amount to a surrender. The Taliban has said that the foreign troops should leave, which would basically amount to a surrender on our part. So these mediators tried to come up with something more amenable to an actual agreement. Hence the "roadmap" I mentioned. But the problem, as I see it, is that it is basically designed to be favorable to the Taliban, not the US/Kabul. I guess this is because the Taliban are in a favorable position. Anyway, I'm guessing this isn't really going to get anywhere, as long as we in the West have the will to keep fighting.
So in sum, I agree that it's really "contact", more than real, sit-at-the-table negotiations. That's why I tried to qualify it in my story as "preliminary negotiations", although I can see how that might be a muddy term.