By Michael O'Hanlon – Special to CNN
The killing on Tuesday of the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and former President Rabbani is sad news. The country has had too much killing; the wave of assassinations is dispiriting to Afghan leaders; even if the Taliban has not had the big successes overall than some seem to believe it has, the psychological effects of such dramatic violence are pernicious throughout the citizenry.
But it is important not to overreact. The peace talks with the Taliban were not progressing to begin with. It is doubtful that high-level Taliban leadership has had any real interest in them all along. It is not clear even Pakistan has had much interest. If there is a silver lining here, perhaps fewer people will have unrealistic hopes about the near-term prospects of high-level reconciliation. Smaller steps towards reintegration at the local level may show some promise, but a big breakthrough with Mullah Omar and his inner circle was very unlikely at any point.
Trying to have talks with the Taliban is fine as long as we do not let down our guard in the process. In the very literal sense, it appears that some of Mr. Rabbani’s associates did let down their guard, trying to build trust by not asking Rabbani’s assassin to undergo a security check. It’s easy to say now and it’s not appropriate to overstate, but a bit more vigilance is probably needed. That is a metaphor for the peace talks in general. We must not stop doing things on the battlefield, or stop helping the normal development of Afghan political institutions or Afghanistan’s economy, out of some hope that a Hail Mary at the peace talks will salvage the situation.
Afghanistan will likely turn out ok—not great, but ok—provided we stay focused on the day-to-day and month-to-month slog. And that slog is really not affected, or obstructed, by this recent tragic news.