What hope for peace in Afghanistan? The question is relevant because there have been many false starts only to fall apart. Last September, just as there was talk of a deal for peace between the Taliban and the US, Donald Trump abruptly cancelled the talks and said there would be no more dealings with the resistance group. Zalmay Khalilzad, assigned this thankless task, was left red-faced. What could he do? While it is difficult to sympathize with Khalilzad, an unsavory character, Trump literally kicked him in the groin by making an abrupt announcement of talks cancellation.
Last November, Khalilzad sneaked back to the negotiating table with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. Of course, this was preceded by visits to Islamabad to get the Pakistanis to support his effort to restart the talks. It was not easy; the Taliban were not enthused by the antics of Trump and had vowed to continue the fight until the Americans are driven out of Afghanistan. This is not a boast; they can deliver on their pledge as they have done with many other invaders prior to the American invasion of their country. The Taliban also know that Trump is desperate to get the troops out of Afghanistan before the next election in November. In 2016, he had campaigned on the pledge to get US troops out of Afghanistan and other far-off places. He has failed to fulfill any of his pledges but Afghanistan is one place he would like to quit.
Additional pressure has been piling up, due in part to the group, Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), which has sponsored 30-second TV ads urging American voters in this election year to demand from their congressional representatives to put an end to “endless wars,” especially in Afghanistan. In the ad campaign, Concerned Veterans of America, are urging US lawmakers to “get America out of Afghanistan.”
Recent reports suggest that there may be some movement in the tortuous Afghan peace process. Both sides have indicated that progress has been made. Media reports also say that the Taliban have agreed to a 10-day ceasefire with the Americans and to reduce attacks against US forces. Whether 10 days will be enough to make a difference is difficult to tell, but if the Taliban have extracted the two concessions they had always demanded — timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan (mainly US and NATO forces), and rejection of the US-imposed constitution on the country — then there may be room for guarded optimism.
Resumption of US talks with the Taliban came amid revelations that successive US military commanders, at the behest of their political masters, had lied about their progress in Afghanistan. Release of internal documents showed that far from bringing peace or development to the country, American presence spawned a culture of corruption that is unprecedented in scale. The nearly $1 trillion spent on America’s longest war has been a colossal waste of money.
A sticking point in the US-Taliban talks had been the absence of the US-backed regime in Kabul. The Taliban dismissed the idea of talking to it unless a peace deal is first signed with the Americans. So far, the Taliban have stuck to this point but have indicated that once the Americans agree to a withdrawal timetable, there may be room for talks with the Ashraf Ghani regime. The Taliban consider that an internal matter that does not concern the Americans. The resistance group has in the past participated in conferences where members of the Kabul regime were present but only in their personal capacity. Once American and other foreign forces are out of Afghanistan, what chance would the Ghani regime have for survival? It is likely that Ghani and the rest of them would flee Afghanistan to safer havens following the exit of foreign troops.
Regardless of one’s opinion of the Taliban’s political views, they have indicated that they would like an inclusive government in Afghanistan. They should be encouraged in this.