The cajoling, and the blunt pressure of a $1 billion cut in U.S. aid, appeared to pay off over the weekend when President Ashraf Ghani and his chief political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to form a government, ending a prolonged impasse following elections last year. Mr. Ghani will remain the executive, and Mr. Abdullah will lead peace negotiations. Yet those talks appear far away, given continuing and increasingly bloody Taliban attacks — including an assault this week on the city of Kunduz, which violated a pledge the insurgents made not to besiege provincial capitals.
Last week, Mr. Ghani announced the renewal of offensive operations by the Afghan army after two horrific terrorist attacks, including one on mothers and infants in a Kabul maternity ward. Mr. Khalilzad disputed the government’s claim that the Taliban was responsible, saying U.S intelligence pointed to the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, which the Taliban regards as an enemy. Yet as a practical matter, the carnage has made it impossible for Mr. Ghani to meet the Taliban’s condition for beginning talks, which is the release of some 4,000 prisoners, including a number of senior commanders.
In Washington last week, Mr. Khalilzad said that while the Taliban’s attacks had violated “the spirit” of the agreement it signed Feb. 29 with the United States, it had largely met the letter of the deal, including by refraining from targeting U.S. forces. The Trump administration, for its part, has moved forward with troop withdrawals that will reduce U.S. forces to 8,600 by mid-July. The U.S. envoy argues that continuing to pursue a peace accord with the rebels is the only option, given Mr. Trump’s determination to end “the burden of Afghanistan,” and that Taliban leaders may yet prove willing; they have told him they do not wish the country to become another Syria.
Mr. Khalilzad and the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin S. Miller, were to meet with Taliban representatives in Qatar this week to “press for steps necessary to commence intra-Afghan negotiations, including a significant reduction of violence,” according to the State Department. They would have a better chance of succeeding if Mr. Trump made it clear that no further U.S. withdrawals will take place until talks begin and yield a cease-fire. As it is, the Taliban has cause to wait and see whether Mr. Trump opts to order home remaining American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election — regardless of the consequences for a nation whose fate, he has made clear, does not much concern him.