InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 03

US-Taliban talks derail

Eventually, the peace process between the United States and the Afghan Taliban fell through as was not that much expected; however, after the terms of truce become public it was obvious that President Donald Trump would not allow to sign the document of virtual surrender before the armed Afghan insurgents.

In total, nine rounds of talks between Washington and the Afghan Taliban took place spanning more than a year. At last, it was very much expected that a peace deal was just around the corner and would be signed soon. However, the possible peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban has become quite murky as the former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, refused to sign the agreement. Already, there was little optimism within Afghanistan and among independent experts that restoration of stability and order would be possible after any deal has been struck between the two sides.

It is important to note that before Pompeo’s refusal to sign the peace deal from Washington’s side with the Taliban and the Taliban refusal to stop attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the two sides were quite close to the deal, however, serious question marks have emerged on the effectiveness of the peace deal. The most important question mark is the refusal by Pompeo to sign the agreement. This is basically because of various provisions of the peace deal. Noticeably, not all the provisions of the peace deal had transpired but international media, which unearthed the proposed provisions, included that the US would withdraw 5,000 of its 14,000 troops from Afghanistan and also vacate five key military bases under its use in the country. However, the provisions of the truce do not put any condition on the Taliban to ceasefire. In short, the probable peace agreement between the US and the Taliban revolved around the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan without placing any conditions on the Taliban. In the situation, it was ovbious that the peace deal would not be signed and in case signed it would soon collapse.

Just before President Trump declared calling off talks with the Taliban, the international media quoting Afghan government sources had divulged that after claiming to have intercepted a radio message of the militant group the Taliban have been telling their low-ranking commanders and foot soldiers that all the US forces would withdraw within a year’s time. The messaging became important from the insurgents standpoint so that to keep calm within the ranks of the militia as many of them wanted to achieve victory by force and did not want to have a peace deal with the Americans. In particular when the group has huge areas under its control in Afghanistan and the ANSF without the support of the US forces are even unable to hold their own, let alone provide security to the state. The argument of many Taliban not to sign the peace agreement with the US was rational. Thus, the Taliban seem to have a well thought out plan to control Afghanistan once the foreign forces would have withdrawn. Fundamentally, the Taliban are a militia and do not fulfill the conditions of a political force; therefore, it is very much expected that they would resort to force and violence to have their way. The Taliban may have made some promises with the special envoy of US President Donald Trump on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, not to intimidate other Afghan stakeholders to power but who would have ensured that the Taliban won’t renege on their promise in this regard. This aspect of the possible peace deal also made it very much stillborn.

Another important question which has emerged regarding a possible peace deal between the Taliban and the US was that whether the Taliban would stick to their oft-repeated promise that they would not allow any militant or terrorist group including Al-Qaeda to have sanctuaries and bases in Afghanistan. Since the ouster of the Taliban regime by the US-led International Security & Assistance Force (ISAF) in November 2001, the militia commanders have been taking the position that they have had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. As the agenda of Al-Qaeda has been global war against the ‘infidels,’ the Taliban have always claimed that theirs was a struggle of national liberation waged against foreign occupation and that they did not have any agenda beyond Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban have been quite honest in this regard as no evidence of their militant or terrorist involvement in a foreign land has ever been recorded.

It is also important to note that when the US occupied Afghanistan the prime goal was to make the country safe, so that Al-Qaeda or any other international militant group could not pose a threat to US security. Although Al-Qaeda has almost been defeated and the Taliban have promised not to give hideouts to the militants from Al-Qaeda, yet there is always a possibility of its resurrection as the ideology is very much intact. In the situation, who is going to ensure that the Taliban having entire Afghanistan under their control should not provide Al-Qaeda hideouts anew?

Most importantly, any peace deal in which there were no conditions placed on the Taliban and the latter refusal to ceasefire was tantamount to the virtual dismemberment of Afghanistan because the Taliban, to all intents and purposes, are a Pakhtun militia and sizable minority of Tajiks followed by Uzbeks, Turkmens and Baloch in Afghanistan have been against the Taliban. As most of the ethnic groups living in their specific areas, mostly in Western and northern Afghanistan, there have always been apprehensions that once the Taliban singlehandedly control Afghanistan, virtual dismemberment of the country would follow suit. This also seems to be the main reason that there was an extensive opposition to a possible peace deal within Afghanistan. The Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani has, therefore, been asking the Taliban to desist from having a direct peace deal without an intra-Afghan dialogue and agreement first. The point seems to have influenced President Trump’s decision to call off talks with the Taliban. Whether there would be any revival of the talks is unknown. However, in the present situation the Taliban would remain recalcitrant and the hawks within the militia’s rank would now dominate that the US could not be trusted. However, the Taliban had to act wisely as it is not only the matter of their pride but also the future of Afghanistan.

The calling off talks with the Afghan Taliban by President Trump is going to be very consequential as it may push Afghanistan to another bout of a bloody war and this time clashes may be quite violent, unfortunately.