Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Taliban’s Foul Game Indicates Khalilzad’s Failure in His Mission

Fear and concerns have been compounded in the wake of harsh and threatening rhetoric exchanged between the Afghan officials and the Taliban. On the surface, the Afghan state and nation believed that regional and global stakeholders would put their weight behind the peace talks to push them to a fruitful end. Pakistan, which is a heavyweight stakeholder, promised to support the process and persuade the Taliban to declare ceasefire. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad appeared optimistic after each meeting with the Taliban and Pakistani officials. He made many trips to Islamabad.
The Taliban enjoyed the unilateral concessions given by the Donald Trump administration. Trump downsized the US soldiers despite the fact that the Taliban did not honor the peace agreement as they maintained their ties with al-Qaeda and continued their escalated insurgency.
There are two main reasons behind the slow process of the talks. First, Khalilzad marginalized regional and global stakeholders from the talks, including the US close allies. It is believed that if the US-Taliban talks were inclusive with all stakeholders on board, the outcome could be productive and, unlike the US-Taliban Doha agreement, it could lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan. But sidelining the Kabul administration and global stakeholders simply led to “a withdrawal agreement”, to put into the words of the Talban political spokesperson Mohammad Naeem Wardak. Moreover, Afghans were highly disappointed and lost their trust in the peace process as the Doha agreement did not lead to reduction in violence. 
Second, a number of regional stakeholders are unwilling to support the process. They reiterate their support verbally but do not really back the process practically. The states that show no inclination in supporting the intra-Afghan dialogue focus on their interests. That is, they seek to have their interests ensured in the Afghan talks.
Giving concessions and international credit to the Taliban in return for nothing and marginalizing the Afghan government and regional and global stakeholders were a terrible mistake Khalilzad had ever made.
EU special envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia said that foreign influence in the Afghan peace process should be levered as much as possible. He urged the Taliban to enter “real negotiations” and accept the ceasefire offer. He has said that the EU disagrees with the release of more Taliban prisoners and Washington is not satisfied with the Taliban’s ties with other terrorist groups, adding that the new US administration has to consider the US-Taliban agreement based on the conditions on the ground. According to Kobia, the Taliban are still a “terrorist group”, saying that the gains made within the last couple of decades have to be preserved. He puts that the EU does not accept “Islamic Emirate” and the revival of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate will affect the EU’s cooperation with the future government in Afghanistan.
The Taliban are also a terrorist group for the people of Afghanistan for spilling the blood of civilians and refusing to declare ceasefire or reduce violence. Afghans appreciate the EU’s support to the peace process as well as to the achievements made in the last twenty years and disagreeing with the Emirate system, which are all the demands of Afghan nation and state. The EU states have to put their weight behind the talks and pressure the Taliban to reach a peace agreement with the Afghan government without bargaining for higher price.
Similar to the EU, Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, mainly Iran and Pakistan, have to support the peace process and stop hosting the Taliban leaders and delegations for giving them international credit. Both the states should note that a troubled Afghanistan would not be in the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors. Supporting the Taliban, in any way, will not be acceptable to Afghan state or nation.
The Afghan administration has constantly called on the neighboring countries, including Iran and Pakistan, to play a constructive role in the peace process. In other words, Kabul will appreciate the constructive engagement of regional and global stakeholders in the talks. Regional actors have to use their leverage on the Taliban leadership to stop their acts of terror and killing Afghan soldiers and civilians.
The recent reports of the US Treasury Department which says that the al-Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan while “continuing to operate with the Taliban under the group’s protection,” is high disconcerting. The report added, “Al-Qaeda capitalizes on its relationship with the Taliban through its network of mentors and advisers who are embedded with the Taliban, providing advice, guidance, and financial support.” It clearly shows that the Taliban have not honored their deal with Washington. Notwithstanding this fact, the Taliban insist on gaining more concessions at the peace table. They urge the US to withdraw from Afghanistan without cutting their own ties with al-Qaeda, which shows Taliban’s insincerity in the negotiations and will lead the peace parley to deadlock.
One will conclude that both the Trump administration and Khalilzad failed in their mission. Their negotiations with the Taliban could not lead to peace or stability in Afghanistan.
The Joe Biden administration has to pressure the Taliban leadership to stop playing a foul game and be genuine in the talks. It should also put pressure on their backers to withdraw their support for the Taliban outfit.