The ninth round of talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban recently ended in Doha with hopes of an agreement paving the way for the withdrawal of American and other foreign forces from Afghanistan. However, there seems to be a deadlock on the crucial point that whether Washington would pull out all of her approximately 13,000 troops from Afghanistan and whether the Taliban intend to adhere to a ceasefire. For his part, US President Trump has said that he would not order a complete withdrawal of American forces, whereas on the other hand, the Taliban said that despite the peace deal with Washington, the militia would continue to attack the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). More importantly, some Taliban commanders stated they would like to capture power by force.
These intentions and statements from both parties have inflicted a heavy blow to the hopes of an agreement. If the US and the Taliban fail to understand the sensitivity of the situation now, Afghanistan would fall into another crisis and it would be near to impossible to resolve the conflict at least in the next ten years. Therefore, the Taliban need to understand this delicate situation. However, it is a question of Afghanistan’s survival and future and therefore they should demonstrate maturity and acumen instead of getting carried away by the dream of once again forcibly occupying Kabul and the entire country like it did in 1996. It must understand that Washington has made fundamental changes in its Afghan policy.
President Trump may have made many controversial decisions, however, the administration’s Afghan policy has ostensibly registered a marked improvement as he wants to put an end to Washington’s longest overseas military entanglement as soon as possible. This is despite the fact that former President Barack Obama signed a mutual defence deal with Afghanistan back in 2014. Under the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Washington justified its continued deployment of 8,000 to 12,000 US troops and a string of military bases across Afghanistan to provide security to the Afghan state and government from internal and external threats. Now President Trump seems to have revisited the BSA and wants to withdraw at least half of its troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The changed US strategy by President Trump regarding Afghanistan has been quite realistic. Although this is not the first time Washington has declared Taliban worth talking to, Trump has tried to meaningfully take the process of negotiations forward. Here, one could recall the words of late Richard Holbrooke, former US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, when he once said that a “reformed Taliban” was acceptable in the Afghan government. Today, Holbrooke’s words and predictions are turning out to be quite true in the final political solution to Afghanistan as the Taliban’s involvement in the government would be acceptable to the US.
The Taliban have been waging an asymmetrical war in Afghanistan in which there cannot be a clear winner or loser. This does not mean that the Taliban are the future or fate of the country, but that if the movement cannot be defeated in the battlefield than it should be gotten rid of in the political arena. In the present circumstances, this could be the shrewdest policy. As far as the Taliban and their agenda and tactics are concerned, they could be neutralised through politics. The fact of the matter is that their modus operandi and modus vivendi are not such that fulfil the needs of a polity. The Taliban must understand this and show flexibility while purposefully reforming their rank and file. Otherwise, history may never forgive them.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2019.