Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is now promoting the idea that one way -- perhaps the only way -- to deal with the Taliban in his country is by winning or buying them over to peaceful participation in Afghan society and government.
He is probably right in his approach. There is little or no reason to believe that an exclusively military solution can be found to the problem of the Taliban in Afghanistan, particularly on a permanent basis. On the basis of their track record in Afghanistan, they were driven out of power in Kabul, the capital, in 2001 by a combination of U.S. forces and the indigenous Afghan Northern Alliance, which had been fighting them for some time in any case.
Now, in spite of the presence in the country of some 110,000 U.S. and NATO forces, plus thousands of Afghan government forces which are theoretically at least opposed to the Taliban, they are back. They don't actually control Kabul, but they demonstrate regularly that they can carry out attacks there almost at will.
Mr. Karzai's argument that political efforts to bring the Taliban into the tent with the rest of the Afghans, in an attempt to obtain reasonable behavior from them as opposed to destructive implacability, has some logic to it. The Taliban have their roots deep within the Pashtun people, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai is a Pashtun. The Taliban approach to government also holds some appeal for many Afghans, especially those who are fervent Muslims or xenophobic or at least extreme nationalist in their loyalties.
The problem for the United States in Mr. Karzai's new approach to the Taliban is that some 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with President Barack Obama's escalation of the conflict to bring another 30,000 into the conflict, are trying to kill as many Taliban as possible, either in direct combat or through the increasingly ubiquitous unmanned aircraft.
The U.S. approach has not worked so far. In particular, the Afghan Taliban over the years that the United States has fought them have now spawned a new Pakistan Taliban, on whom the United States is also raining missiles from unmanned aircraft, to the rage of Pakistan civilians and government figures.
It is also the case that Mr. Karzai is asking the United States and other international donors to pay for the new campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Taliban. He has postponed Afghanistan's legislative elections scheduled for May 22 by four months to Sept. 18 to give his effort to coax and buy the Taliban into cooperation more time to succeed.
If there is any attempt in Washington to retain logic in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, a serious effort needs to be made to try to reconcile winning them over as Mr. Karzai seeks to do with U.S. money while U.S. troops try to kill them off. At this point, U.S. policy toward Afghanistan seems to be spinning crazily, which is definitely not acceptable given the high cost in lives and dollars Americans are paying there.