The recent offer of negotiations by the Afghan Taliban to the United States has come as a surprise, but looking at it within the context of the conflict theatre in Afghanistan the proposal is quite logical.
The Taliban made the talks offer to the US in a letter published on its website. The Taliban said they preferred to resolve the conflict that began in 2001 through peaceful dialogue and warned that the use of force alone would complicate the problem in Afghanistan.
The manner in which the Taliban chose to propose talks to Washington was through an open letter addressed to the American people. The letter significantly said: “We still believe that it is not too late for the American people to understand that the Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban call themselves) can solve its problems with every side through healthy politics and dialogue,” This is an important statement from the fiercest Afghan insurgent group. The aura of assurance in the missive to Washington is quite conspicuous. This is encouraging that something constructive has come forth from a war-hardened group. There is also a message that the Taliban are ready to sit with all the Afghan sides in a political dialogue. The Taliban themselves have pointed at “healthy” politics in their communication.
The timing of the talks offer by the Afghan Taliban is profoundly significant. Firstly, it has come at a time when the Taliban have claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks killing more than 100 people in Kabul. It would appear that staging large-scale deadly terrorist attacks and, on the other hand, extending an olive branch to Washington is contradictory. However, a deeper study of the situation reveals that in the Taliban calculation carrying out some large-scale terrorist attacks before making a talks offer was calculated. By such huge terrorist strikes the Taliban want to intimidate both the Afghan people, government and the US authorities and forces in Afghanistan, that fighting the Taliban has become extremely difficult and there should be another way out of the situation. By making the talks offer to Washington the Taliban have also shown the path of peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban are assuming that the Afghan and US citizens after getting tired of a tedious war in Afghanistan, would pressurize their governments to sit at the negotiating table with them (Taliban). The Taliban think that in the post large-scale terrorist attacks situation the US and Kabul authorities would be more than ready to talk to the Taliban, so that at least an uneasy peace could be restored in the war-devastated country. This Taliban strategy seems constructive. However, only time and the response from Washington would show to what an extent it may be successful from the Taliban perspective.
Secondly, the Taliban talks offer also seems to be motivated by a sense of fear within the group that after staging large-scale terrorist attacks the US and Afghan authorities response may be to rachet up military activity. Thus, the offer is also meant to prevent response from the Afghan and US forces. Here it may be mentioned that after last month’s terrorist attacks in Kabul, most of which were claimed by the Taliban, US President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a matching response to the insurgents. President Ghani even went to the extent of saying that now the Taliban would be negotiated with on the battlefield. After that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) reportedly killed tens of Taliban in operations in different parts of Afghanistan. But it remains to be seen to what extent ANSF personnel are committed to their objective, as the Afghan military and police have been experiencing a high-level of dropouts and insider attacks. In other words, the discipline within the ANSF personnel leaves a lot to be desired. With such an indisciplined force it becomes extremely difficult to defeat the insurgency of the Taliban, or to maintain a sustained response even.
The timing of the Afghan Taliban talks offer to Washington is also very interesting. It has been made just before the spring, in which the Taliban, since the 2001 ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, have been launching a surge known as the Spring Offensive. So making a proposal for peace just before the Spring Offensive demonstrates that the group means business.
The talks offer to America by the Afghan Taliban just before the Spring Offensive and just after launching large-scale terrorist attacks in Kabul also shows an element of war-weariness on the part of the Taliban. They have been waging a continuous insurgency since the 2001 ouster of their regime by the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. Insurgent intensity came in 2004 and this has been sustained since then. During this period, the Afghan Taliban has been withstanding all efforts by the US and its NATO allies, the number of whose forces at one point in time had crossed 150,000 personnel, to defeat the insurgent group. This resistance by the Taliban has surprised even their profound critics, some of whom have had to acknowledge the tactics of the militia. Nevertheless, any militia or insurgent group cannot fight unendingly and it is always extremely difficult for insurgent and terrorist groups to keep rank and file intact and to continue to replenish its ranks. War weariness is a natural phenomenon and the Taliban seem to be feeling the heat. They would like to put an end to the insurgency but the costs have to be factored in.
The Afghan Taliban consider themselves as the legitimate ruling junta of Afghanistan and have every right to lay claim to re-forming its regime in the country. Although the Taliban have claimed that they are the legitimate power aspirants, but other non-Taliban groups also have a right to partake in power in Afghanistan. This is a healthy development in the Afghan conflict.
Now, after the talks offer by the Taliban, two questions are profoundly important to be analyzed. The first is whether the proposal of negotiations from the Taliban is worth the name and, secondly is the offer going to be successful? Insofar as the question of value of the talks offer by the Taliban is concerned, indubitably it is worthy of consideration. There is a virtual stalemate in the Afghan conflict theatre from which there is seemingly is no escape. Against this backdrop, the Taliban peace talks offer is quite valuable.
The success of the Taliban talks offer now rests on two factors: How it is bought by the US and what other concessions and compromises the Taliban could offer. Presently, the US and the Afghan governments are reluctant to accept the Taliban talks offer. There may be a final military push from US and Afghan forces in order to shatter the morale of the Taliban. Outright defeat of the militia seems to be improbable. However, President Trump seems to believe that a battlefield victory for the US is possible. That seems highly improbable. Which means, no early end to the suffering of Afghanistan.