The London conference held recently amid the momentous media blare ended with an optimistic scheme. While wishing peace and justice to emerge in this tortured trail, one cannot help thinking of the fanfare at the end of the Bonn Conference on the subject in 2002. Then the US had a mindset of 'mission accomplished as the Taliban towed to the hills leaving Kabul to the 'winners. Flushed with success the US, Russia and the northern warlords went onto commit atrocities against the Pashtuns. Perhaps, for impressing the public opinion in the US, they never referred to the awful asymmetry of power between the contestants. Now reports have confirmed that the US hurled more Bunker Busters, Daisy Cutters, Hellfire missiles than the yearly budget of the Taliban. Moreover, the latter had no air force which would remain a blinker for the Afghans. Actually such cruelty, to a great extent, accounts for the return of the Taliban now being courted. The failure of the Bonn agenda is now history. As the US and NATO could not materialise their much trumpeted reconstruction programme due to corruption, local as well as foreign, and a terrible disconnect between the two parties, it became a dj vu, ala Afghanistan. The Afghan adventure served as a trump-card in the hands of Bush-Cheney to take in the nave Americans, who had also been shocked by the 9/11 tragedy. In this setting Karzai, an acolyte, became a hostage in the Presidential Palace who survived under the security provided by the US. His countrymen started calling him 'the Mayor of Kabul out of contempt for the prevailing state of affairs. True to the Afghan tradition, the Taliban did not melt away and eventually started to attack the 'occupation forces in order to harass them. Initially, the average Afghan did not take them seriously. However, as insecurity, corruption, and unemployment swelled in the south, and east particularly, joined hands to oust the 'foreign forces. This was, generally, helped by three elements. First, the failure of the status quo to bring in their much-vaunted reforms which would result in prosperity, security and justice. Second, either due to arrogance or ignorance/fear, the ISAF practiced liberal use of air power against the 'suspects or targets. Possibly due to shoddy intelligence, or maybe a could-not care-less approach, most such bombings would end up in killing civilians. This by the local tradition invokes 'revenge by the survivors of the family against the offender. Even the underling Karzai would condemn such killings more often as a matter of tradition, but the foreign forces initially used to disregard his approach. Third, the northern warlords had started cultivating opium and making big money soon as Karzai took over. Faced with hunger, the Pashtuns followed suit. The Taliban, to demonstrate their goodwill and strength started offering security to such drug-related operations. Since Pashtuns have large cultivable swaths of land, it soon started paying huge dividends. Being at the receiving end, the Taliban reversed their known policy in relation to drugs. This endeared them to their ilk who also started paying them a share out of such earnings. Possibly following a World Bank warning in 2005 about a likely famine and because the north was exporting drugs with impunity, the foreign forces tended to look the other way. Such cooperation helped the Taliban to sell resentment against the 'occupation forces, besides the access to funds for expanding their operations against the enemy. No research is needed to prove how these three elements helped the Taliban to bounce back as the harbingers of the Afghan liberty and honour. Now the US wants an agreement which would allow her troops to leave by the middle of the next year; hence the feverish activity by the US and the UK. It is interesting to note that whenever somebody talked of such conciliatory moves till last year, the US asked the person to shut up. David Miliband, UKs foreign secretary, also got a similar snub when he dared to talk on these lines in 2007, following protests in his country about the 'useless war in which the British troops were also getting killed. Now the wheel appears to have come full circle, like it happens too often in this 'roundabout of the world. Turkey hosted the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran just before the London conference to whip up enthusiasm for this move. Moreover, the London moot attended by the US has woven a web of promises and plans to redouble efforts to, what Karzai described, woo the disenchanted brothers. The Taliban reaction appears to be, as usual, calculated. While their spokesman promised to announce their feedback on the issue, one statement also alleged that this was a trick by the 'occupation forces to break the momentum of the Taliban attacks on them. Being used to sustained fights, more so against foreigners, suspicion of the enemy is a part of their tradition. A famous proverb emphasises: The cobra turns on its back and then strikes. Meanwhile, the foreign troops keep dying along with the locals. In a bizarre aerial bombing last week in Wardak province, six members of the Afghan armed forces and four Americans were killed besides some civilians reminding one of the Kunduz massacre prompted by Germany which led to the resignation of the defence minister and the chief of staff under the US pressure. The US forces claimed to have 'come under fire but indiscriminate killings are going to aggravate the ground realities. Recently, four more US troops got killed. If a ceasefire is not negotiated by the US, an exit-strategy could be doomed. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. Here people are bound to take revenge, regardless of timeline, against any offence committed unless, of course, the wrong-doer offers an apology and seeks a settlement worked out by a jirga of elders. That is why Karzai also wants to convene a loya jirga whereby he hopes to pacify the Afghans on behalf of the US/himself for the death and destruction caused since 9/11. By tradition, compensation agreed between the parties supplements the public apology to bury the feud once and for all. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been trying to work out something for the foreign troops. The Taliban would like to get their pound of flesh, post-settlement. Pakistan has special sensitivities superimposed on her mindset by the colossal sufferings of her people the US must cultivate Pakistanis on a long-term basis so that viable peace returns to AfPak. The writer is a former secretary interior.