A milestone conference on the conflict in Afghanistan is now taking place.
On 25 March, delegations from across the region and around the world gathered in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, to discuss and confront the Afghanistan problem.
The conference features a wide representation of states including diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, the European Union, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
There are several subjects participants will have to tackle. Concerns about the rise of the Islamic State in the region, US attention shifting from Syria back to Afghanistan and the impending increase in troops from several nations including Germany, and growing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months (as well as Pakistan and the United States) are a few points on the agenda for the Tashkent conference.
The seventeen-year long war in Afghanistan has been the subject of innumerable conferences and other international get-togethers over the past decade. This isn’t even the first Uzbekistan hosted event on Afghanistan, the country having held a forum on the conflict during the recent Samarkand security conference.
So what’s supposed to be different now?
The short answer: There are substantial signs that America’s drastic shift in its Afghanistan policy is paying off.
When the administration announced its new Afghanistan policy last August, it promised that things would be different in the war during Trump’s presidency. This cliche heard-it before rhetoric has actually been backed up with significant actions. To date, these have included important strategy changes including a major loosening of the rules of engagement for US forces, adopting of a more aggressive seek-and-destroy strategy, and the targeting of Taliban income sources such as heroin production facilities. All of this while actively pursuing the peace initiatives with militant leadership.
Signs of hope for real talks with the Taliban were heard recently from the Pentagon. According to reports, the US is now seeing signs of interest from elements of Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency about talks with the government in Kabul. Secretary Mattis told reporters “we’ve had some groups of Taliban - small groups - who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking.”
If all of this is any indication of a pattern, it may mark an important change in the progression of the war in Afghanistan. If the reaching out by elements of the Taliban for peace with Kabul is sincere, this would be a game changer. This question will no doubt be on the minds of delegates in Uzbekistan over the next several days, and will likely be very influential in forming any consensus or resolution during the rest of the talks.
By all indications, America’s strategy laid down seven months ago has been making headway. As long as the administration stays resolute, we may see in the very near future, the bringing to a close of one of the longest conflicts in US history.