By all accounts, the United States and Afghan Taliban are on track to reach a deal by year’s end. Both parties need to wrap up this conflict – and that imperative outweighs the obstacles that arise along the way. The U.S. and the Taliban are the major players in the current negotiations, but a bevy of others will try to influence the final agreement. Their power to do so is limited. But their buy-in is requisite for a deal to stick and to prevent immediate disruption once the U.S. withdraws its forces.
Afghanistan’s strategic location means that its stability is often fleeting. Outside powers periodically make forays into this buffer area, seeking to expand their sphere of control or influence; their efforts have been met with varying degrees of success. Afghanistan’s strategic value is derived from its position at the crossroads of the Middle East, South Asia and Russia, and its vast natural resources add to its appeal. But its terrain – desert in the west and high altitu