On Monday, James drew attention to Dexter Filkins' stark assessment of the situation in Afghanstan and of the strength of the Taliban. Today, the attack on a hotel in Kabul gives that assessment a fresh and tragic resonance. What we seem to be witnessing is the Taliban, or at least elements of them, flaunting their murderous intent as the West prepares to leave the country. From the assassination of General Daud to this Mumbai-style raid, their methods are becoming more ambitious, more headline-grabbing. Around ten innocents are said to have been killed this time around, along with six to seven of the Islamist militiamen.
Every death, of course, raises doubts not just about the peace talks that are thought to have begun between the US and the Taliban, but also about Hamid Karzai's claim that those talks are "going well". It may be that these oxymoronic Taliban for Peace exist, but there's little reason, so far, to hope that the organisation as a whole will relent in its terror campaign before 2015. And after that? If they grease their way back into government, under the terms of some power-sharing agreement, then questions will legimately be raised about how much has been achieved in Afghanistan, and whether the country is going forwards, or back.
Stir in Afghanistan's other problems, such as the continuing drama over fraud at the Kabul Bank, and it is hard to be optimistic for its future. Little wonder, then, why there was so much emphasis placed on Muhammad Omar — and Pakistan's (lack of) will to help capture him — in Congress yesterday. As Ahmed Rashid has argued recently, seizing the Taliban leader could make the West's endgame in Afghanistan a more fruitful one.