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Peaceful, overdue end to Afghanistan war may be in sight

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If the war in Afghanistan has been anything, it has been a disappointment.

After 17 years of fighting that has seen thousands of deaths and nearly a trillion dollars in expenses, Americans are sick and tired of the interminable conflict.

Fortunately, serious and substantive negotiations are finally closer than ever to bringing the endless war to an end. Though uncomfortable and not without risk, the new framework to cease hostilities deserves the support of both major political parties and the American people.

Many voters will be irritated by the central feature of the agreement: for the first time, the Taliban has been formally included in negotiations, and their interests will be represented in any final agreement. Doubtless, leaving the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a sharp rebuke of the democracy-spreading agenda that dominated the past 20 years. On the other hand, the United States has simply failed to move enough Afghans away from the Taliban, whether by force, money or cultural influence. And the Taliban is now prepared to honor a negotiated settlement that strikes an uneasy but real compromise.

Specifically, both sides have now agreed in principle to ensure that terrorist organizations do not operate out of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves the country.

That, lest we forget, was the main — some would say only — strategic objective justifying the original invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

Critics will caution that peace agreements are made to be violated in the minds of fanatics and ideologues, among which the Taliban must be counted.

This is an obvious concern. But using the fear to justify open-ended conflict with unattainable goals is foolish and fruitless. The truth is there is important evidence that this kind of agreement can hold.

Each country with a stake in Afghanistan wants peace, starting with Afghanistan itself. Significantly, this includes China.

The Chinese are very worried about the spread of militant Islam — so much so that they have accepted real reputational damage in the West opening up massive re-education camps and filling then with their millions-strong Muslim Uighur population.

At the same time, Beijing is worried about threats to the safety and stability of its massive international Belt and Road economic plan. Reports now show that China wishes to take as proactive a role as it can in taking Afghan disorder off the global chessboard. It wishes to see peace succeed, the better to stabilize the core area where its economic strategy will live or die.

And while the U.S. and China are often at odds, neither Washington nor Beijing wants the relationship to spiral into outright hostility and open conflict. Afghanistan offers an important way to establish limited but valuable commonality of interest between the two great powers without the U.S. sacrificing any core objectives.

Unfortunately, in Washington, some members of both parties have a selfish interest in portraying peace in Afghanistan as irresponsible or isolationist.

Neither of these claims could be further from the truth. No serious official who supports the peace policy believes the U.S. can or should cut itself off from the world and flourish. None takes a naive view toward the continued threats posed by terrorist groups and their state sponsors.

Peace in Afghanistan is long overdue. Americans will be grateful when it comes, and reward those in Washington who make it happen.

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