The latest offer of peace talks from the Afghan Taliban suggests either of the two possibilities: they believe they have all but won the war and want now for the other side to sign the surrender document; or they believe they cannot continue the war anymore and would like to negotiate with the other side an honourable peace deal. Or maybe it is neither of the two — they are neither losing the war nor winning it — but let us assume that driven by a genuine desire to save their countrymen from further wretchedness they have decided to establish enduring peace in Afghanistan through negotiations.
“Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the peace offer significantly said. But the offer is conditioned on the US ending what the Taliban call its ‘occupation’ and accepting the Taliban right to form a government “consistent with the beliefs of our people”. It was not too late for the American people to realise the Taliban can solve problems with every side “through healthy politics and dialogue”, the militants claimed, adding the chances for dialogue were “not exhausted”.
Progress on peace negotiations has been blocked in the past by the deep mistrust between the Kabul government and the Taliban, as well as uncertainty about the position of neighbors, including Pakistan. The Taliban said they want to play a “constructive role in finding a peaceful solution”. They said they had no intention to damage any other country or let anyone use Afghan territory against anyone else.
Interestingly enough only about four days prior to the latest Taliban talks offer in an interview to Asia-Bloomberg View’s Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Ghost Wars, had outlined ‘what the Taliban really want’. Discussing his latest book, Directorate, Coll implied that Taliban negotiators would say, “We learned from our last experience in power that we need to find legitimacy in the international system. We need a more capable government. We need a transition period. We are prepared to share power. We need a broader ethnic balance in Afghanistan, we can’t just be the Pashtun radical movement. We see that there are lots of different ways that Islamist movements like ours participate in politics, as in Egypt after the Arab Spring.”
Adding, Coll said: “You know, you could dismiss that as the musings of a negotiator. But it’s evidence that the Taliban are a more internationally sophisticated, more internationally aware movement than they were in the days of obscurantist policies and isolation in Kandahar.
“If this war doesn’t end with a victory ceremony for the US, then the question is, how can the shared interests of the United States, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and India in an Afghanistan that is not engulfed in chaos, that is not a font of transnational violence — how can that be realised? As long as nobody attempts that kind of diplomacy, there’s really no reason to think that the structure of violence that we see in Afghanistan now is going to change.”
But no matter how the other side approaches the latest Taliban offer of peace talks, it is hard to believe that the actual talks would begin before the ‘occupation troops’ leave Afghanistan. However, the Taliban, perhaps, would not be averse to replacing the ‘occupation troops’ with a UN peacekeeping contingent during peace negotiations.
It costs the US more than $1 million per US troop in Afghanistan per year. The total actual US cost of the Afghanistan mission now exceeds $20 billion a year. The entire UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ budget is less than half that.
A 2017 Rand Corporation report had found UN peacekeeping operations can be an effective means of terminating conflicts, ensuring against their reoccurrence and promoting democracy and has a robust positive effect on peace-building outcomes. Indeed the UN goes to places the US wants, but more cheaply and effectively and with a lot more predictable outcomes.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2018.
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