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Prospects for peace

January 29, 2019

Summary: A US-Taliban peace agreement and a US departure, in the absence of a wider Afghan discussion, may actually increase the risk of civil war.

 

The US government has been engaged with elements of the Taliban leadership for many years in “talks about talks”, with seemingly little to show for it.  The current US administration appears frustrated and erratic with regard to its policy on Afghanistan.  The approval to send 4,000 more troops was made in 2017.[1]  At the end of 2018, President Trump spontaneously threatened to pull out as many as half of the total number (from approximately 14,000 down to 7,000).  This could be undermining what looks to be a delicately balanced peace process.[2]  The Taliban refuse to engage directly with the Afghan government, choosing only to talk to the United States and demanding the complete withdrawal of US forces before they will talk about anything else.[3]  The United States and the Taliban appear to be drawing closer to a deal in which the US pulls out its forces in return to Taliban commitments to oppose an Al Qaeda return to Afghanistan and fight the Islamic State presence in the country.[4]  This is currently a highly public but small segment of the overall peace process that will need to engage with many factions of society.  It is unclear how the Taliban envisage their future role in society and government – and how they are likely to be seen by the population.  A wider dialogue and reconciliation between the Taliban on one hand and the Afghan government and the Afghan people on the other will pose a much greater challenge.

“…two key sticking points were not resolved during the talks, which did not include representatives of Afghanistan’s legally elected government.  These include direct talks with the Afghan government and the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire.  Khalilzad has been leading a months-long diplomatic push to convince the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government, but the militants have steadfastly refused, dismissing authorities in Kabul as ‘puppets’.  On Monday, Ghani assured Afghans that no deals would be made without Kabul’s awareness and participation in negotiations.

‘I call on the Taliban to…show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans’ demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,’ said Ghani.

The Afghan government has periodically complained about being excluded from the peace talks. The latest push for peace talks come as US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his eagerness to end America’s longest war.  Afghan officials however fear a hasty US pullout could risk a re-run of the brutal civil war that gripped the country following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops.”[5]

A US-Taliban peace agreement and a US departure, in the absence of a wider Afghan discussion, may actually increase the risk of civil war.

 

[1] ‘US to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan’, Deutsche Welle, 16 June 2017, https://www.dw.com/en/us-to-send-4000-more-troops-to-afghanistan/a-39271721

[2] Jackson, A., ‘Trump Leaves Behind Mess for Afghans to Clean Up’, Foreign Policy, 21 Dec. 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/12/21/afghanistan-trump-united-states-taliban-conflict/

[3] ‘Afghan Taliban, US to hold peace talks on Wednesday’, The Week, 8 Jan. 2019, https://www.theweek.in/news/world/2019/01/08/afghan-taliban-us-to-sit-down-to-peace-talks-on-wednesday.html

[4] Nordland, R., and Mashal M., ‘U.S. and Taliban Make Headway in Talks for Withdrawal From Afghanistan’, The New York Times, 24 January 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/world/asia/usa-taliban-afghanistan-deal.html

[5] ‘Ghani reassures Afghans as US envoy reports progress on Taliban talks’, France 24, 28 Jan. 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190128-afghanistan-taliban-talks-ghani-assurances-usa

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