It's a question that's been vexing American diplomats for months:
Why won't Afghan President Hamid Karzai sign a security agreement with the U.S. — a deal that President Obama and his aides say needs Karzai's signature if any American troops are going to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year?
As Sean Carberry, NPR's Kabul correspondent, has said:
"There are a lot of theories. They seem to be boiling down to two main lines of thought here. One is that he's trying to hold on to power in the waning days of his presidency. ... The second thing is that he's saying he will sign this when a peace process begins with the Taliban, demanding the U.S. start that process. So he appears to think that in his waning days, he can get a peace deal that hasn't happened for the last 12 years."
Tuesday, The New York Times added to the evidence about Karzai's desire to talk peace with the Taliban and how that might be a major reason he has balked at signing the security agreement.
"President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has been engaged in secret contacts with the Taliban about reaching a peace agreement without the involvement of his American and Western allies," the Times reported. It cited "Western and Afghan officials" as its sources and quoted Aimal Faizi, a Karzai spokesman, as acknowledging the secret contacts and that they continue.
The Times adds that:
" 'The last two months have been very positive,' Mr. Faizi said. He characterized the contacts as among the most serious the presidential palace has had since the war began. 'These parties were encouraged by the president's stance on the bilateral security agreement [with the U.S.] and his speeches afterwards,' he said."
According to the Times' report:
"The clandestine contacts with the Taliban have borne little fruit, according to people who have been told about them. But they have helped undermine the remaining confidence between the United States and Mr. Karzai, making the already messy endgame of the Afghan conflict even more volatile."