President Trump cancelled a secret meeting with the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David, a Maryland presidential retreat. Trump wants the world to believe that it was he who cancelled the meeting because of last Thursday’s attack that killed 12 people, including an American Sgt First Class Elis A Barreto Ortiz. Many analysts instantly questioned the rationale as many US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since Zalmay Khalilzad started his assignment. Ortiz was the 16th American casualty this year. So, that was a blatant lie. It was indeed, the Taliban who cancelled the meeting but Trump got ahead of the story by tweeting it.
Truth be told, the talks have suffered a setback because of Trump’s penchant for showmanship. He wanted to stand between Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Ashraf Ghani and claim credit for a fantastic deal that ended the Afghan war — something other presidents merely chased but didn’t achieve. He wanted to wear his red tie and shake their hands by actually pulling their hands towards him and then tapping on them. The Taliban, however, were in no mood to be pulled like this. They said talking to Ashraf Ghani before the deal with the Americans was finalised would be tantamount to political suicide. More importantly, America and the Taliban had talked about this.
The Taliban had been clear from day one that it didn’t want to talk to the “puppet” Kabul regime. They met the Afghan government officials merely as Afghan citizens and not as government representatives. However, despite the refusal, they did mention that once the agreement with the Americans was finalised, the talks with the Kabul regime could happen. Trump wanted the talks to happen before a final deal was announced. A case of chicken and egg.
Interestingly, Ashraf Ghani sounds excited with the cancellation of the peace process because he was left out despite having no conditions yet going the extra mile for the Taliban to talk to him. Apparently, the talks are “dead” because personal gains trumped the peace process; Trump wanted to get re-elected, Ghani wanted the same coupled with his desire to be included in the peace process, and the Taliban stubbornly refused to talk to Ghani before a formal deal.
The Taliban indulged in violence while the peace talks with the Americans were ongoing. Their rationale was to continue negotiating from a position of strength. Ghani has suddenly become this anti-civilian deaths’ czar. After the talks were cancelled, he said, “Peace without a ceasefire is impossible.” Sure, but the Taliban had been clear that a ceasefire will be with those who can bring peace by withdrawing the occupation forces from Afghanistan. Ghani does not have the ability to withdraw those forces — precisely the reason the Taliban refused to talk to him.
Furthermore, Ghani and the fraud-driven media punditry nowadays are comfortably missing one part of the puzzle: US airstrikes and the Afghan Army kill more civilians than the Taliban do. All they have to do is to quote the UN report, not some investigative journalistic work by Jeremy Scahill or Seymour Hersh. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told several news anchors that the US killed “over 1,000 Taliban” in the last 10 days alone. So, the claims of canceling talks because of continued violence are nothing but gibberish.
If the US can single-handedly decide Afghanistan’s fate to an extent where Ashraf Ghani wasn’t even allowed to have a copy of the “in principle” agreement, then what was so sacrosanct about having the Taliban talk to Ashraf Ghani before the formal deal was signed? Now, there is neither a deal nor talks between the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani. Let us hope sanity prevails and Trump as usual swings from these “dead” talks to the negotiating table again. Because otherwise, Trump can’t say that he ended the longest American war.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2019.