Since Transparency International (TI) has given its verdict on corruption levels in Afghanistan, it has been adjudged as the worlds second most corrupt county. But it is, undoubtedly, a verdict on the efficacy and efficiency of the US 'mission, since high-sounding ideals, like good governance and elimination of corruption, have been claimed by Washington as cornerstones of its Afghanistan strategy. In addition, the latest White Houses report on Afghanistan and Pakistan sent to the Congress paints a desolate picture. The report revealed that only minor positive change had occurred with respect to security in Afghanistan, and that the progress across it was uneven; the bleakest area of all was governance. The performance of President Hamid Karzais government was evaluated as unsatisfactory throughout the first half of the year. Instead of taking concrete steps to control the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan on a sound footing and ensuring that the war-torn country does not tailspin into chaos after the departure of the foreign forces, the approach being followed is of quick-fixes, coupled with over-projection of progress. The 'success criteria is quantity-based; however, nothing is heard about improving governance, fighting corruption or building a legitimate or effective government. Nevertheless, some good news is coming out of Afghanistan these days. President Karzais government and the Taliban leadership have entered into preliminary discussions about the correct method for pursuing a peace settlement to end the civil war. This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies, General David Petraeus said, recently, while referring to the fact that senior Taliban officials had sought to reach out to the Afghan government. The list of these entities also includes the much-maligned Haqqani network. Hence, it is amply clear that the occupation forces have failed to eliminate the freedom resistance, and are now desperately seeking a quick and successful political settlement. At the High Peace Councils (HPCs) inaugural session on October 7, President Karzai said: The government will assist the council whenever necessary, but that it would operate independently. This sounds as if the Afghan President was distancing himself from the earlier preconditions for the talks. In previous discussions, Karzai had insisted that peace negotiations could not begin until the Taliban agree to accept the Afghan Constitution and disarm; whereas the Taliban had insisted that talks cannot start until the occupation forces leave the country. Apparently, both sides seem to have reconciled to soften their respective stance. However, Washington is still in a state of denial by insisting that the Taliban would not have come to the table unless they felt that they were losing the war. And, thus, the US is pursuing a strategy to deliver incapacitating blows to the militants. Almost daily, reports about the killing or capturing of militants are circulated by the NATO and ISAF forces. During September, this year, NATO claimed that, 114 insurgents were killed and more than 438 suspects detained, which included more than 105 Haqqani network and Taliban figures. Even if these figures are accurate, this strategy has not helped to decrease insurgency in Afghanistan. Voids created by the killing or capturing mid-level commanders are filled by younger, much more radical ones. The target killing might weaken the Talibans chain of command, but this effect is mitigated by a surge of 'autonomization of its local structures. There is no dearth of eager fighters, who are ready to assume the responsibilities of their seniors, who die or are captured. Thus, the net result of this strategy is intensified radicalisation. Furthermore, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police are growing numerically; however, their operational effectiveness is uneven, and the desertion rate remains rather high. Lack of ethnic balance, is another serious problem. Efforts to recruit more Pashtuns from the south have come to naught. So, the officer corps is still heavily Tajik dominated. In January this year, southern Pashtuns accounted for 3.4 percent of recruits, falling to less than 2 percent in August. In this context, ANA is perceived as alien in many places down south; mostly, it also behaves like this. As the drawdown timeline is approaching, the US strategy is undergoing a visible change. Earlier, the occupation forces supported reintegration pegged around the defection of low and middle ranking militant leaders to the Afghan government on a district by district basis, and opposed reconciliation aimed at a political understanding with the top Taliban leadership, especially the Quetta Shura hierarchy. Now, that scenario is changing. Population-centric COIN approach has given way to the kill or capture special operations programme. After resisting to negotiate with the Taliban leadership for a long time, the Obama administration has now reversed the course. Even the Karzai government has held face-to-face talks with all major components of the insurgency, including the militant group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. Earlier this year, a delegation from another major faction led by Hekmatyar visited Kabul and had put forward a 15-point peace proposal. Karzai has been pursing reconciliation, especially since the London Conference where he promised to reach out directly to the Taliban. It appears that the US is now actively exploring the possibility of a deal with Afghanistans armed opposition. But, at the same time, the decision to negotiate reflects growing pessimism in the US about the military outcome of the war. All three components of the insurgency - the Taliban, the Haqqani group and Hizb-i-Islami - have links with Pakistan. Therefore, it is widely expected that Pakistan is destined to play a key role in any deal that emerges with the Taliban. Gilles Dorronsoro, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, argues: We should be happy that somebody has leverage over the Taliban.We should put the Pakistani army in the loop, because they are the only ones who can deliver the Taliban. The Afghanistan conflict has entered a new and decisive phase. Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in statements from the Afghan, US and NATO officials about negotiations. These officials have been claiming that they were facilitating such talks by providing safe passage to the Taliban representatives. Also, the next strategy review on Afghanistan is just around the corner. Although the US President would have to face intense criticism, yet he needs to come clean on the issue. Time is ripe to end the military mission in Afghanistan. USAs wish of decimating the Taliban entities must be shelved and a whole-hearted effort should focus on enhancing a peaceful political process. The writer is a retired air commodore, PAF. Email: