National and International Issues

Afghanistan Peace Negotiations

Pakistan unequivocally stated that no single faction will be supported but all factions, in fact whole of Afghan nation will be supported in these negotiations. 


Rays of hope started appearing over the horizon of Afghanistan after U.S. indicated that it was prepared to hold direct talks with Taliban, a longstanding demand from Taliban. U.S., through a formal letter, requested Pakistan Government to help in holding these negotiations. Its envoy Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, an ethnic Afghan, arrived in the area and had a number of meetings with the respective leadership of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States. A number of meetings took place, mostly in Doha, Qatar between U.S. and Taliban delegations. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were present to help in these negotiations. Pakistan used all its influence with Taliban to assist in the Afghan peace process, a role that U.S. duly acknowledged.
U.S. had probably confidentially conveyed to Pakistan that U.S.President Mr. Donald Trump had decided to leave Afghanistan lock, stock, and barrel if the talks with Taliban succeed satisfactorily. Pakistan suddenly realized that an abrupt pullout will lead to creation of a power vacuum which, if not filled appropriately, will lead to an outbreak of another civil war. Therefore, it insisted on foolproof interim arrangements for governance before pullout.
U.S. President Mr. Donald Trump, as part of his electoral politics, announced that in order to cut down on expenditure he would recall troops from Syria and Afghanistan. This sudden announcement created difference of opinion within his administration and Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned. President Trump fails to conduct formalized discussions on strategic issues within his administration amongst his Security Advisor’s team, the Pentagon and State Department. He appears to be following a personalized style of ruling where he keeps pulling out rabbits out of his hat, making important announcements through his tweets. In the same time frame, he created a hype regarding the wall in the south bordering Mexico to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. A proposition on which he got into trouble with U.S. Congress controlled by Democrats and appears to be backing off now. President Trump had created these two hypes to make a big announcement regarding his achievements on his two big policies in his State of the Union address and then probably announce his candidature for a second term in the White House. However, unfortunately for President Trump and Afghanistan, both these efforts have ended in a whimper.
There were a number of sessions of talks between U.S. and Taliban delegations, mostly in Qatar, with the goal of reaching an agreement on a general framework. But an agreement could not be reached. The stumbling block being that the Americans failed to give a date for final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and that the Taliban would not agree to a date of ceasefire till the foreign troops leave their country. Regarding talks with the present Afghan Government they said that they were Afghans and could negotiate with them once the Americans had left. Well, that’s where the talks stalled and the two sides went to their leadership for further instructions. Now that the State of the Union address has taken place without any major announcement, will there be any further motivation to resume these talks in Washington? There have been no formal discussions to understand U.S. strategic thinking regarding their troops in Afghanistan. There is  ambiguity as to whether U.S. is interested in retaining bases in Afghanistan or is prepared to leave for good. Retention of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, therefore, becomes crucial to negotiations for peace, both for U.S. and the Taliban. This should have been the basic question before discussing peace in Afghanistan. What did the U.S. expect from these talks? They probably wanted to extract some major concessions from Taliban or probably a ceasefire which could break the Taliban’s momentum of operation. Taliban have become equally clever over a period of time and shouldn’t have been taken lightly. They conducted themselves quite competently and appear to have given nothing away. They have got international recognition in the process and arrived in Moscow along with Afghanistan’s opposition led by Mr. Hamid Karzai to participate in peace talks hosted by Russia. They appear to have come out stronger from the talks and the present Afghan Government as weaker.
U.S. needs to assess its role in Afghanistan through a proper strategic review. After having stayed in Afghanistan for 17 years, spending almost USD 7 trillion and having suffered almost about 5,000 casualties and with over 20,000 wounded, it has hardly anything to show which can be termed as a success in Afghanistan. No superpower has ever succeeded against Afghans on their soil and U.S. is no exception. Nobody can help them avoid this sad end. All Pakistan can do is to make their withdrawal as honorable as possible.
U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Peace Negotiation Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad who has embarked upon on an international tour of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar and few European countries has stated that a deal with the Taliban is possible before July this year, the date of scheduled Presidential election in Afghanistan. It’s not known how much is the motivation in the leadership in Washington for a deal in Afghanistan. 


U.S. needs to assess its role in Afghanistan through a proper strategic review. After having stayed in Afghanistan for 17 years, spending almost USD 7 trillion and having suffered almost about 5,000 casualties and with over 20,000 wounded, it has hardly anything to show which can be termed as a success in Afghanistan. No superpower has ever succeeded against Afghans on their soil and U.S. is no exception. Nobody can help them avoid this sad end. All Pakistan can do is to make their withdrawal as honorable as possible.


Taliban have consistently refused to hold talks with the present Afghan Government but they need to recognize the government’s representation in the process. Taliban shouldn’t think that they will be able to capture power again in Afghanistan and will be able to rule in an unopposed manner. They should think in an accommodative manner, forego the gun culture and turn into a political rather than a military force.  
Pakistan, which was considered as a bad guy before these talks, suddenly became the good guy overnight and was asked to help in facilitation of these talks. It duly worked out a clear cut policy towards Afghanistan. Pakistan unequivocally stated that no single faction will be supported but all factions, in fact whole of Afghan nation will be supported in these negotiations. U.S., after knowing the no holds barred support by Pakistan, duly appreciated its role. Even the Afghan Unity Government which remains inimical to Pakistan appreciated Government of Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan. There were some countries for whom artificial roles in Afghanistan had been carved out became untenable and it was thought that troubles for Pakistan would be over if this peace deal succeeds. A last ditch effort by these elements were two attacks in Loralai, Balochistan. It’s true that these dynamics will return if the peace deal between U.S. and Taliban fails. A fact which makes it evident that Pakistan has a lot at stake in these negotiations. The natural course for U.S. is to agree to an honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan. They could stay on for another couple of years with no material difference on ground though even after two years the situation would be the same while the Taliban can wait them out.


The writer is a retired Brigadier who has also served as Secretary Home and Tribal Affairs KP and Secretary FATA. He is an eminent defence analyst who regularly contributes in national and international media.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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