US is fighting an un-winnable war in Afghanistan. They are hoping to achieve results by use of military means that neither the British Raj could in a hundred years nor the Soviets with a much larger manpower and equipment. US Military Commanders know that they are losing this war, only no one has the courage to stand up and tell it to the Administration. There are no General Shinsekis any more.
The Afghan elections due to be held in August will be meaningless under these conditions and should be postponed for at least another six months. An interim Administration comprised of impartial and moderate elements (not Zalmay Khalilzad as he will be seen as a US plant) should replace the corrupt Government of Hamid Karzai. To achieve fair and impartial elections, interim leaders must pledge not to be candidates in the elections.
It is time to bring this war to an end and settle Afghanistan politically and not militarily. Continuation of this war is destroying the entire region as Taliban cross over into Pakistan and create problems for their security forces. After initial contacts are established with Taliban there should be a cease fire under which all military activity comes to a halt. Then a conference of all Afghan players (including Taliban) should be called to discuss participation in next elections. Without stopping the war a political settlement is unlikely, so fighting will continue. After the disastrous Iraq war, US public has little capacity to stomach this war and if things continue on the present course, US will probably have to up and leave in a couple of years, leaving behind a bigger mess.
It is imperative that military activities come to an end and a political solution starts to take hold as soon as possible. It is a fallacy that Taliban can be defeated and then development can begin in Afghanistan. Taliban are not likely to be defeated so real development cannot begin. How can foreign troops hope to defeat the locals who are supported by some of the same war lords who claim to side with NATO and at the same time finance Taliban from their profitable poppy crops. The decision to allow Afghans to grow poppy (completely eradicated during Taliban rule as un Islamic) has been one of the biggest mistakes of Afghan war. More than likely Mr. Karzai and his henchmen were behind this decision, no wonder his brother is now allegedly the largest drug dealer in Afghanistan.
Nearly 50% of Afghan population is Pashtun and yet for the last five years they have not had proper representation in the Afghan Government. After the US invasion, most dominant players running the Government were from the Northern Alliance, a minority non-Pashtun group defeated by Taliban earlier. They forced their will over Hamid Karzai and virtually controlled the Government. Situation has changed somewhat since then, but still Pashtun majority does not have a fair representation.
To start an all party dialogue, it is important to bring Taliban to the table, but this will not happen under a Karzai Government. A neutral interim administration comprised of elders is much more likely to make it happen. First, the US has to realize that Taliban are inclusive and not exclusive to Afghan society, so they need to be brought to the conference table. Some Afghan elders have already shown willingness to help start this process and this should be taken advantage of.
Only a fair and impartial election with all parties participating (including Taliban) can bring a representative Government to Afghanistan. Ever since Soviet invasion in 1979 Afghanistan has been devastated by war and the country needs a major economic plan. Pakistan has also paid a heavy price for supporting and training Mujaheddin against Soviet forces and by the influx of three million Afghan refugees, one million of which still reside there. Also, influx of Afghan weapons into Pakistan since 1979 has played havoc in their society, virtually destroying law and order.
Instead of spending one hundred billion dollars on a losing war, US and NATO should create a 'Marshall, style plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Probably a much lower figure than the cost of war (say) $25 billion will bring massive development to both countries, creating new schools, building new roads and markets, airports etc.
Peaceful Afghanistan and Pakistan can start building oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to the Arabian sea away past the Straits of Hormuz to ensure safe and unlimited supply of oil and gas to US, Europe, and the Far East in addition to meeting energy needs of these two countries.