Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif  (R) while watching a cricket match between their two countries in Islamabad November 15, 2014. (Faisal Mahmood/Reuters/Corbis)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) while watching a cricket match between their two countries in Islamabad November 15, 2014. (Faisal Mahmood/Reuters/Corbis)

One of the most pressing issues facing the new Afghan government is whether and how to engage the Taliban insurgency in a political dialogue to achieve a lasting peace. As a candidate, President Ghani spoke often of the need for peace. In his inaugural address, he reiterated the theme, saying: “I ask the government opponents, particularly Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party and the Taliban, to enter into political talks.”

In order for this appeal to be meaningful, however, Ghani will have to address a legacy of failed negotiations under former President Hamid Karzai; deal with the consequences of a reduced international military presence; and manage his own divided government. Despite a stated desire for peace, the obstacles may be greater than the opportunities.

There have been three reasons why previous peace overtures have failed. First, President Karzai, despite his pro-peace rhetoric, was uninterested in reaching a comprehensive deal with the Taliban. Instead, he preferred to try to co-opt individual Taliban figures, understanding that a comprehensive political deal would have inevitably reduced his own power.

Second, the mistrust that existed between the United States and Karzai during Karzai’s second term meant that they were unable to cooperate on an approach to the Taliban. The lack of trust between two key interlocutors made it difficult for the Taliban to have confidence in a negotiation process.

Third, the Taliban themselves were divided. A hard-line faction within the movement believed the planned withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan allowed for a possible military victory over a weak and unprotected Kabul regime. The Taliban also remains under the influence of Pakistan, which has allowed the Taliban to operate from its territory for the past decade. Read more