Afghan – US negotiating sides indicated agreement for peace deal but the abrupt cancellation of talks captures the complexity of peace-making efforts in Afghanistan. At the heart of this enigma is the question that is it possible to conclude a peace deal with the Taliban assuming that they can deliver peace by ending four-decade of war in Afghanistan?
U.S. President Donald Trump called off peace negotiation and asked “how many more decades are they willing to fight?” The US response was in the wake of September 5 attack in Kabul killed 12 people, including an American soldier. He further concluded that “if they cannot agree to a cease-fire during these very important talks….then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway.” In response to the President’s statement, the Taliban stated that the collapse of peace negotiation “will harm America more than anyone else.” However, the heated exchange of views blurred the question of peace in war torn Afghanistan.
In their media interactions, the Taliban have attempted to showcase them as peace loving side which has to fight an imposed war and defend their homeland against foreign occupation.
Negotiations are being conducted under the shadows of distrust and misperceptions. Taliban are of the view that Trump wants to elongate negotiation until US elections in 2020
The group stated that “we called for dialogue 20 years earlier and maintained the same stance.” As retrospection, the Taliban did not comply with U.S. demand in negotiations with Clinton and Bush administration before 9/11, to extradite Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. After operation Tora Bora, Taliban leaders moved into law less tribal region FATA in Pakistan.
They reorganized themselves and finally got opportunity to launch insurgency as the United States ensnared in Iraq war. The insurgency still continues after the demise of talks and the group has relied on resistance for seizing power. They are highly committed to their cause that they will accept nothing less than the complete end of foreign occupation. For this purpose, they believe on Islamic Jihad for ultimate victory.
However, the Taliban has exercised a successful diplomatic maneuver to color the looming deal as an agreement of withdrawal that overshadowed Zalmay Khalilzad assertion as a “comprehensive peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement.” Such diplomatic overture led the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to conclude that the deal would be surrender of the United State that might explode its power prestige in the world.
Taliban did not reluctant to make an analogy of US presence in Afghanistan like of Soviet Union and British who once invaded Afghanistan and were defeated. They considered Kabul government as “Puppets” of the United States and ever rejected negotiation hoping that once foreign troops would withdraw, it would collapse. Taliban felt that they were on the victorious end of the bargain and considered the Afghan government and US to be under huge pressure.
Negotiations are being conducted under the shadows of distrust and misperceptions. Taliban are of the view that Trump wants to elongate negotiation until US elections in 2020. After that, he will launch a major offensive and back track the whole talks. Furthermore, as they perceive that the US may outsource the war in Afghanistan to black water contractors. In this context, the Taliban launched an attack on Green Village located at the heart of the Kabul killed several including Shafiq Ullah a supposed Black Water chief operator in Afghanistan. Taliban later, publicized his picture first time ever on their social media account.
There are certain divergences between the warring sides. In recent negotiation with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the Taliban express their ardent stance on being called the Islamic Emirate and its restoration would remain their top goal. The US asserts on ceasefire during negotiation while the Taliban emphasize conclusion of deal prior to ceasefire.
The prisoner release might be the beginning of a new strategy for a peace process and revived hopes for peace
Actually, the Taliban view the ceasefire suspiciously because it would be problematic for them to reintegrate their fighters if ceasefire fails. It will split their groups that is why they are afraid of the ceasefire. The Taliban wanted a complete withdrawal of foreign troops-a frequent rhetoric of the Taliban over the years, while US side asserted a limited stay on some military bases.
On the other hand, the United States has always urged “an Afghan oriented” solution between the Taliban and the Kabul government. The U.S. goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table and reach a political settlement.
Since the group continues to deny any legitimacy of Kabul government and kept making key strategic combat wins over Afghan forces, the United States government is forced to sit with Taliban one-on-one. In this situation, the Taliban want to put conditions in front of the US, because backing out of their stance will be translated as weakness. Especially when the US has not formally announced any timeline for withdrawing out of Afghanistan.
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In regard of the withdrawal of the US forces, Pakistan and China are on the same page “Pakistan and China want the US to withdraw its forces but they also want the US to extradite based on a set-formula of the mainstreaming of the Taliban. The question who will surrender first is the hot ball of negotiation that requires mutual flexibility. The events suggest that both sides are not preventing themselves from escalating violence and misperceiving intentions.
However, there is convergence over some matters. The United States is demanding from the Taliban the commitment that the Afghan soil would never be used as a place for planning and launching attacks against the United States by “terrorist” groups. The Taliban agree for not allowing their land for such an attack against the United States, however, they do not like the label “terrorist”.
They are rather in favor of saying that the Afghan soil would not be used for ‘international attacks’. Beside this, there are three main problems with both parties. One is the Afghan government’s reluctance to add Taliban in the Afghan Govt. Second is US‘s ambiguous stance about the withdrawal of its army from Afghanistan and the third problem is the Taliban themselves because they cannot change their insurgent movement into a political movement”.
To sum up, Taliban are able more than any other player to bring peace in Afghanistan. They have been resilient and fighting as a single force against foreign forces for eighteen years. Their sway over the land is greater than the Kabul government and foreign forces. Beside their fighting capability they have sustained effective diplomatic maneuvering.
They engaged the United States in negotiations and gained ground on the table. Their diplomacy takes regional states like Russia Iran, Pakistan and China into confidence about their negotiations with US and won their support. They are also intended to go to Turkey. Nationally, they are also willing to sit on the table for intra-Afghan dialogue.
Therefore, they joined Russia and China led dialogue with other Afghan stake holders. The prisoner release might be the beginning of a new strategy for a peace process and revived hopes for peace. The revival of negotiation seems to be the only viable option for both parties, otherwise peace will remain a desired dream in this unwinnable war.
Dr. Naeem Mahboob Malik has done his Ph.D. recently from Department of Political Science Baha Uddin Zakariya University, Multan. He is now visiting faculty in the same department. His research interests are international relations, strategic, security studies, and comparative politics. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.