Although the issue has not yet gained the prominence of its Iranian analogue, it is essential to begin conducting a sober analysis of whether the benefits of negotiating with the Taliban outweigh the costs. While there are many negotiations relevant to the Afghan War—between the U.S. and its NATO allies, between the U.S. and the Afghan and Pakistani governments, and between the Pakistanis and the Taliban—this paper will focus on whether the United States, together with its allies in Kabul or NATO, should negotiate with the Taliban.
To bring a coherent logic to the complexities of this cost-benefit analysis, I will apply the decision-making framework described by Professors Mnookin and Blum in their article “When Not to Negotiate” and elaborated upon in Professor Mnookin’s forthcoming book, Bargaining with the Devil. This framework focuses the inquiry on five key issues: 1) the parties’ prioritized interests, 2) their best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA), 3) potential negotiated outcomes, 4) the probability of implementation, and 5) the direct and indirect costs of negotiation. The framework then focuses on the related considerations of legitimacy and morality. Mnookin and Blum argue that while we should not always “bargain with the devil,” our ingrained biases often lead us to reject negotiation prematurely, and we should therefore establish a rebuttable presumption in favor of negotiating. With this in mind, I conclude that although it may indeed be too soon for direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, it is not too soon for indirect talks to probe the Taliban’s interests and to seek a path to a zone of possible agreement (ZOPA) and a mutually beneficial outcome.