Today's Washington Post has a lengthy article reporting on high-level talks between the Karzai government in Afghanistan and the Taliban over a negotiated end to the war. It is impossible to know how serious the effort is or what the prospects for success are, in part because all of the parties appear to be insisting that the talks are preliminary and saying very little about what's on the table (to give themselves an easy way out if the talks don't go well).
The thrust of the Post piece is that most (if not all) of the contending parties are beginning to realize that a decisive victory is not going to be won by force of arms. It is perhaps significant the talks do not include representative of the Haqqani network, which may be why the Obama administration has been going after it with particular energy in recent weeks.
In any case, I think this is an encouraging sign. The first recommendation of the Afghanistan Study Group in which I participated was "Emphasize Power-Sharing and Political Reconciliation," and I'm glad to see several key actors behaving in ways that are consistent with that recommendation. If the Karzai government, the Taliban leadership, and various members of ISAF are moving in that direction, there's a chance that the United States and its allies will get out of there sometime before 2020, and maybe some chance that Afghanistan can revert to its previous status as largely neutral and not very important strategic backwater.
The United States and others would still have to keep an eye on the area for counter-terrorism purposes, but we'd be out of the costly and counterproductive business of nation-building. Given the other items that we really ought to be addressing, that would be a good thing. So I will keep my fingers crossed that these talks are serious and that they eventually succeed.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.