As Afghans prepare to vote on Thursday, the top issue for all the leading presidential candidates remains whether and how to negotiate with the Taliban. Hamid Karzai, still predicted to win, has made vocal calls for negotiations but has done little so far in office, and Taliban insurgents are imperiling the election. His top challengers both want a more grass-roots approach to peacemaking. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main rival, told the New York Times, "If you lose the people, you lose the war."
Foreign government and international organizations also remain divided on how much to engage the Taliban. The UN's mission wants to see a wide-ranging peace process immediately, while the US and NATO want further military action to weaken the Taliban before any negotiation takes place. "It’s not going to happen until the insurgency is weaker and the government is stronger," said one Western diplomat in Kabul.