THE report that the Americans have been engaged in secret diplomacy with the Taliban for the past six months, with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Britain actively assisting the various interlocutors, should be greeted with a measure of relief and satisfaction. That US Special Envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, when confronted with this report, maintained that the Obama administration did not have any direct contact with the Taliban does not really contradict it. Nor does his reference to the conditions laid out by Secretary Hillary Clinton for talks with them create much doubt. Rather, these back-channel contacts might be behind the delay in the finalisation of a review of Afghan policy undertaken by Obama, with special reference to General McChrystal's assessment of the ground realities in Afghanistan and his demand for more troops. After having been eight years in the Afghan blind alley, with Bush's so-called 'coalition of the willing' either falling apart, as some countries withdraw their forces and others persist in their attitude of cosmetic participation, the US finds itself faced with growing calls for an early exit. Saner analysts have been warning the US President of another Vietnam should he only choose to listen to his generals who are in the habit of asking for the deployment of more and more soldiers - as it was in the case of Vietnam, so it is in the present case. Besides, General McChrystal's assessment of the Afghan situation, foreboding defeat unless as high a contingent as 40,000 troops are added to the present American strength of 68,000, has set alarm bells ringing in some key civilian policymakers about the pitfall of increasing military commitment. Thus, the rationale for talks to devise a sensible way out. For Pakistan, the logic of negotiations is even more compelling since it has been led to fight its own nationals. Rather than bowing to Washington's pressure to take the war to other areas, it should be making an open offer to the tribesmen to enter into talks. At the same time, it should make it clear to the Americans that since the Afghan resistance is against foreign occupation, their departure would be the first move towards real peace. Pitifully, they would be leaving behind a country shattered in virtually every respect and under the charge of a thoroughly corrupt and inept government. But left alone and given time, the people would be able to stumble through; they definitely stand a better chance of stabilising the country than with the US presence.