The international community is concerned about post-2014 Afghanistan. Things are moving at a mind-boggling speed, but, unfortunately, in a circle of no joy. The frontline actors - America, Afghanistan and the Taliban - are engaged in futile brinkmanship.

Of all these players, time is not on the side of Washington and Kabul. However, the Taliban are in no hurry; they have ample time at their disposal. Hence, upsetting the applecart of Doha negotiations by the Afghanistan government on protocol related trivialities has created greater urgency in the US.

Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg in their latest article, entitled “US Considers Faster Pullout in Afghanistan”, published in the New York Times, have stated: “Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and to a ‘zero option’ that would leave no American troops there after next year.”

On the other hand, the annoyed Taliban negotiators have stopped visiting the office, dashing hopes for an early resumption of the peace process. “We have temporarily closed the Qatar office due to broken promises.......We are not happy with the Americans, the Kabul government and all parties who have not been honest with us,” a Taliban official said. Despite this, senior members of the Afghan Taliban told Reuters that they had not closed their office in Qatar, but had suspended talks and removed their flag from the building after differences emerged between the US and the Afghan government over the proposed negotiations: “We wanted direct talks with the US; whereas, the Afghan government has been planning to hold negotiation with us, which is not acceptable to us.”

Nevertheless, it is encouraging that none of the parties have given an indication of walking away from the Doha Initiative. Both the US and Afghanistan need to discard the tendency of attaching pre-conditions to the dialogue process because if conditions are to be met before the talks, then what is the need for a dialogue?

In another development, President Karzai terminated the negotiations with USA over their bilateral security deal to provide constitutional immunity to residual troops, which Washington takes as a prerequisite to keep its forces in Afghanistan after 2014. He said that the dialogue would not resume until the Taliban met directly with the representatives of Afghan government, thus linking the security negotiations to a faltering peace process and making the US responsible for persuading the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government. For years, however, the Taliban have refused to meet directly with Afghan government officials, dubbing Karzai as a US puppet.

After the Doha setback, a video conference was held that was aimed at defusing the tensions between President Obama and President Karzai, but it did not work. During the conference, Karzai accused the US of trying to negotiate a separate peace deal with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

President Karzai, fearing that his administration might be sidelined in any Taliban-US agreement, refused to send members of his High Peace Council to Doha. But a senior member of the Council maintained: “There was no harm if the US and the Taliban hold direct talks at the initial stage.”

In all likelihood, the Afghan President is losing his nerve in view of his uncertain future. He wants to sign a long-term bilateral security agreement with the US, in a bid to compel it to protect Afghanistan against Pakistan. Karzai’s desperation was reflected during his last visit to India where he sought increased military assistance. He wants Washington to steer the peace process with the Taliban on his terms and make a long-term financial commitment to the Afghan army and police.

Having said that, the talks between Washington and Kabul over a long-term security deal have faltered in the recent months because the latter insisted that the US guarantee Afghanistan’s security.

Currently, the option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 is gaining momentum. The idea of a complete military exit from being the worst-case scenario now stands elevated to a viable alternative under serious consideration. “There’s always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option,” said a senior Western official in Kabul. “It is now becoming one of them and it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path.”

No decision, however, has yet been made on the pace of the pull out and exactly how many American troops to leave behind. The ripple effects of a complete US withdrawal would be significant. Afghanistan would, probably, get far less than the promised $8 billion in annual military and civilian aid, which only caters for a little more than half of the government’s annual spending.

Within the Obama administration, the way the US extricates itself from Afghanistan has been a source of tension between civilian and military officials. The American commanders in Afghanistan have generally pushed to keep as many troops in the country and as long as possible, while the White House has been urging a speedier military withdrawal.

Like other facets of transition, political changeover is also marred by growing political uncertainty in Afghanistan and rising concerns that the country’s presidential election could either be delayed for months or longer, or be so flawed that many Afghans would not accept its results. Preparations for the election scheduled for next April are already lagging behind schedule. The UN officials have begun to opine that they, probably, will not be held until next summer, at the earliest. It may even warrant postponement till 2015.

The establishment of peace in Afghanistan would have a hugely positive dividend here in the fight against Pakistani Taliban, so Pakistan is encouraging the resumption of negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the US. Hopefully, the US-Taliban talks would resume soon and President Karzai would reconcile to an undeclared relegated status.

Supported by Pakistan, the talks with the Taliban are part of a much broader process to seek peace in Afghanistan, as, indeed, in Pakistan. At this stage, Islamabad should be clear on what it desires after the transition in Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, it is important to assess how the Taliban saw the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, with or without residual garrison. They should be encouraged to contest the coming elections; without their participation, elections would be an exercise in futility.

Moreover, there should be a plan to induct the Taliban combatants into the Afghan National Security Forces to correct ethnic balance in the forces, which is highly tilted in favour of the ethnic minorities. Power-sharing with the Taliban could work and that is what Pakistan and the US are thinking about.

The American bottom line is that the Taliban should have no global agenda. The Doha element of Taliban has already declared that they have no agenda beyond Afghanistan. Now, the theatrics should quickly give way to serious negotiations, as the end of 2014 is not far away.

 The writer is an academic.