Afghanistan remains what some call a theatre of war but behind the scenes all sides are said to be talking about how an eventual peace could play out.
The Afghan government will still have to deal with the Taliban long after foreign troops are gone.
The dealing has already started. The government can offer money, jobs and political posts in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.
When the US-led invasion swept aside Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, few thought the Taliban would be in a position to negotiate nine years later.
While another war was being fought in Iraq, they regrouped.
In the last three years, the insurgency has intensified and expanded, killing US and NATO troops at a faster rate than at any time since the war began.
“They are very bold. For the last two years, the Taliban have had no reason to hide. So they have been out in the open,” said US intelligence officer Matthew Crawford.
The Taliban is still very much alive at both ends of its operational scale. Recruiting footsoldiers ready for jihad is proving no problem.
And the Quetta Shura, the group’s senior leadership, is based out of reach of foreign fire in Pakistan.
All of which makes a purely military victory unlikely, as Afghan political analyst Haroon Mir explains:
“In any insurgency like the current insurgency in Afghanistan, as long as the Taliban leadership remain in safe havens, in sanctuaries inside Pakistan, they receive financial, logistical support and they could freely move around Pakistan. It is very difficult to defeat this insurgency just by killing rank and file and low level Taliban fighters.”
After nine years, it is military stalemate in Afghanistan. A negotiated settlement looks the most likely prospect. If the Taliban can survive against foreign troops, it will still be in the mix once they have left.
Talks on where they will fit into that mix seem to have already begun.