Mullah Omar confirms that he's already entered into negotiations with the U.S. over Taliban prisoners. That's a BFD, as I wrote at Danger Room. A cool Twitter discussion with Joshua Foust, Anne Marie Slaughter, Josh Rogin, Jim Arkedis and Mike Lyons has convinced me I should probably put a finer point on the significance of this, so here goes.
As Joshua Foust rightly observes, Omar's been trying to drum up U.S. interest in negotiations for years now. Only recently did the U.S. commit itself unambiguously* to negotiating a peace settlement with the Taliban: Secretary Clinton's February speech to the Asia Foundation ran it up the flagpole, and President Obama's June speech on the drawdown put the force of the presidency behind it. The Bush administration wasn't interested in peace talks; the Obama administration pre-2011 was interested in peace talks if the Taliban essentially surrendered before they proceeded, meaning it was more open to talking with Teheran than with the Quetta Shura.
That's the context in which Omar's statement comes. The White House is signaling its willingness to talk; Omar not only clears his throat, but he says that early talks are already ongoing. Omar's statement further sounds comparatively calm notes about the Karzai government; declines to demand the U.S. do anything for the talks to expand; and suggests that the Taliban are in a sufficiently advantageous military position that talks will simply consolidate their gains. And in case you're freaking out by that last part: that's what every combatant needs to believe, or even just articulate, ahead of coming to the negotiating table. We say it too.
None of that is to say that peace talks have the slightest degree of inevitability to them. But the modalities ahead of talks are no longer uncertain. The challenge now is to channel the momentum from Obama and Omar's statements into a set location, including relevant stakeholders like the Afghan and Pakistani governments, to actually see what a surely arduous negotiation can accomplish for ending the war.
*I put an asterisk beside "unambiguous" because I'm not really convinced the U.S. has the bureaucratic structure in place to support peace talks; and because Obama's strategy in Afghanistan doesn't explain how military efforts actually support a negotiated peace. These are significant self-imposed obstacles to peace. The good news is they can be unilaterally mitigated. But the U.S. has to clearly want to mitigate them.