The U.N.'s top official in Afghanistan says the Taliban are interested in a political solution because they know they cannot win the war against the U.S.-led coalition or the hearts of Afghans.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said it is important to find an "Afghan solution."
The Taliban told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday that it had no intention of entering into any kind of negotiations with NATO forces.
Speaking at the Atlantic Council, Mr. de Mistura said the Afghan people are painfully aware of what it means to have the Taliban back in power.
"The time when [the Taliban] arrived and believed they could be trusted as a group of religious zealots who were bringing an anti-corruption environment is over," he said. "They know that they cannot win, and the Afghan people will not accept them."
He predicted a campaign by the Taliban and al Qaeda of "spectacular types of activities" aimed at creating the perception that they have the upper hand.
"The end is going to be painful before it gets better," he said.
Mr. de Mistura said no solution in Afghanistan is feasible unless the regional players feel that the stability of Afghanistan is in their interests.
India and Pakistan have been engaged in a proxy war in Afghanistan, and Mr. de Mistura said Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been fairly successful in balancing his relationships with New Delhi and Islamabad.
Mr. de Mistura headed the U.N. mission in Iraq when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus was in charge of U.S. forces there.
President Obama last month appointed Gen. Petraeus to lead U.S. troops in Afghanistan after he fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal over comments he made to Rolling Stone magazine.
Mr. de Mistura said while in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus "showed a remarkable capacity of combining military skills with diplomatic sensitivity, cultural sensitivity and political finessing, which is quite a rare combination."
He said with the arrival of Gen. Petraeus, "we are going to see a momentum on the military side" and expressed confidence that the U.S. commander would make "quite a difference" in Afghanistan.
Mr. de Mistura described as the "mother of all issues" elections planned for Sept. 18 in Afghanistan.
The last election in August went "very badly," he said, adding that it was important to have a more credible contest, but that expectations need to be lowered.
"They will not be Swiss elections, they are going to be Afghan elections," he said, suggesting that the contest may not fit the Western definition of democracy.
More than 2,600 candidates, including more than 400 women, are running for office.
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