The first thing I do when I arrive in Kabul is to try to get up on a roof. I am in most ways a respectful guest, but this is a city that places a premium on privacy that I routinely disregard. It is a place where people have long prized discretion, so homes were built behind walls, those walls now have walls built on top of them, and the whole thing is often garnished with concertina wire and corrugated tin sniper shields, the idea being that people may shoot at you, but they'll be shooting blind.
In a South Delhi neighborhood, the sound of a man reciting Dari, a Farsi dialect spoken in Afghanistan, over a loudspeaker attached to a modest two-story building rose over the din of vegetable hawkers. The building was a church run by Afghan refugees who had converted to Christianity. The man was a young Afghan priest reading the Bible before a Sunday service in its basement.
When the Taliban blasted the famous Bamiyan Buddhas with artillery and dynamite in March 2001, leaders of many faiths and countries denounced the destruction as an act of cultural terrorism. But today, with the encouragement of the American government, Chinese engineers are preparing a similar act of desecration in Afghanistan: the demolition of a vast complex of richly decorated ancient Buddhist monasteries.
The United States and Pakistan are planning a joint effort to draw the Taliban toward peace talks in Afghanistan, an initiative that could help reconcile some militants and give Pakistan a say in the political future of its larger neighbor. A joint commission, or "action group," would help vet candidates for political rehabilitation, with a goal of helping Afghanistan frame a workable peace deal after U.S. and foreign forces leave.
During the confrontation, the CIA also conducted revenge attacks in Pakistan; as following differences between American State Department and the CIA, at the occasion of almost every high level meeting between Pakistani and American authorities, the CIA carried out a drone attack. American premier agency effectively undermined public diplomacy of its own government.
Whatever Joe Biden says, for the women who were beaten, forced to quit school, and bartered in marriage, and civilians who were deprived of freedom, the extremist group remains a threat to humanity and progress, says Afghan-American author Fariba Nawa.
"The problem with the Pakistanis is if they take away support from the Taliban they fear it will come back to haunt them," the diplomat said. But as weariness with the war grows, public diplomacy aimed at making a settlement more palatable to Western voters has been ramped up in recent weeks.
Even though the administration has reportedly initiated secret, serious high-level contacts with representatives of the Taliban and has touted nuanced shifts in diplomatic language far less consideration has been given to how the United States can encourage a shift in the Taliban's perceptions and behavior. Fighting must continue, but talking and engagement are even more urgent.