A spate of recent international conferences at Istanbul and London have signalled that the Western countries led by the United States are engaged in a serious reconsideration of their strategy and options in dealing with the Afghanistan situation by placing increased emphasis on opening channels of communication with the Taliban who are mostly Pashtuns, while continuing with their military operations so as to gain a more advantageous position in the prospective talks with the insurgents. Hopefully, this emerging trend in time will lead to full-fledged talks on national reconciliation in Afghanistan. If so, it would be a welcome development, as durable peace in Afghanistan can be restored only on the basis of national reconciliation and an agreed formula for sharing of power among the various warring groups including the Pashtuns. The Pashtuns constitute about half of the Afghan population and the non-Pashtuns comprising the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc. The current political dispensation in Afghanistan is seen by the vast 'majority of the Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns, as having been dictated and imposed by the US under the force of bayonets to serve the agenda of a foreign power. The Pashtuns, who got a raw deal under this dispensation, are generally unhappy with it and are likely to continue their armed struggle until a new political settlement which meets their just aspirations, is negotiated and a broad-based government reflecting the ethnic composition of Afghanistan is established in the country. The US invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was projected as a part of the war against terrorism with the objective of punishing Al-Qaeda, which was accused of organising the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the Taliban for having given sanctuary to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But since the US allied itself with the Northern Alliance in its effort to overthrow the Taliban regime, it willy-nilly became embroiled in the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan in which the Taliban mostly representing the Pashtuns and the Northern Alliance representing the non-Pashtun forces were pitted against each other. The US was seen by the overwhelming majority of the Pashtuns as a supporter of the Northern Alliance in the latters quest for supremacy in Afghanistan. This was and remains unacceptable to the Pashtuns who had previously ruled Afghanistan for more than two centuries since the days of Ahmad Shah Abdali. This is not to deny that the Taliban themselves in the past have been guilty of serious strategic blunders, which are responsible for their current sorry state. Their decision to give sanctuary to Al-Qaeda was their cardinal sin. Their refusal to share power with non-Pashtun forces represented by the Northern Alliance was their strategic folly. They failed to come to terms with the reality that in view of the current ethnic composition of Afghanistan, and increased awareness of political rights by the people in modern times, neither the Pashtuns nor the non-Pashtuns alone could rule the country. It was because of their misconceived belief in the right of the Pashtuns alone to rule Afghanistan compounded by religious rigidity and obscurantism that they spurned several proposals and initiatives for sharing power with the Northern Alliance during the period from 1996 to 2001 when they were in control of most of the territory of Afghanistan. The Taliban were, however, not alone in committing serious mistakes in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance was guilty of its own blunders during the time from 1992 to 1996 when it was ruling Afghanistan. It was the Northern Alliance which at that time rejected proposals for sharing power with others and establishing a broad-based government in Afghanistan until it was too late. The need of the hour is for both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance to learn from their past mistakes and work for genuine national reconciliation in Afghanistan with a view to establishing a broad-based government reflective of Afghanistans ethnic composition. Hopefully, Iran and Pakistan after the trilateral talks in Islamabad last month would support them in this momentous task so that their brethren in Afghanistan are able to enjoy the benefits of durable peace. At present neither the Taliban nor the coalition forces are in a position to prevail. They, therefore, need to make use of dialogue and negotiations to find a way out of the current difficult situation. There is increasing recognition of this reality by the US officials. For instance, US General Stanley McChrystal in a recent interview with the Financial Times remarked: As a soldier, my personal feeling is that theres been enough fighting. I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. He wanted to shape conditions which allow the people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed. He also did not rule out the possibility of seeing Taliban leaders in a future government in Kabul. The Istanbul Summit on Friendship and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia held on January 26, in a joint statement, supported the Afghan national process of national reconciliation and reintegration in accordance with the Constitution of Afghanistan in a way that is Afghan-led and Afghan-driven. Finally, the London Conference on Afghanistan held on January 28 welcomed the Afghan governments plan to establish a national council for peace, reconciliation and reintegration followed by a loya jirga later this year for peace in the country. President Hamid Karzai also appealed to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for help in the quest for peace in Afghanistan. Admittedly these initial tentative moves for starting talks with the Taliban are loaded with conditions and marked by uncertainties. The Karzai government has called upon the insurgents to renounce violence, cut ties with Al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution for the commencement of talks on national reconciliation. As for reintegration, it plans to offer security, jobs and other financial benefits for wooing the moderate Taliban away from the hardcore elements. Obviously, the real purpose is to weaken the insurgency by luring away the moderate elements from among the insurgents. On the other hand, the Taliban, in the past, repeatedly rejected the possibility of any talks before the withdrawal of foreign troops. However, their definitive response to the latest Karzai invitation for talks within the framework of the loya jirga is still awaited. In view of the complexity of the situation and the uncertainties surrounding it, it is premature to say that one can see the light at the end of the tunnel. What remains to be seen is whether the Afghan government and its Western supporters as well as the Taliban would have the wisdom and the courage to show the necessary flexibility for starting the process of dialogue aimed at genuine national reconciliation and the establishment of a broad-based government reflective of the ethnic composition of Afghanistan. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: javid.husain@gmail.com