Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Troop Pullout and Taliban’s Links with International Terrorist Groups

The intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha was in a stalemate until this week. The republic negotiators and their Taliban interlocutors had not held any talks for more than a month. If the talks had been deadlocked, it would have come as a shock to the people of Afghanistan, who hope for peace and stability, as well as for US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The leaders of the negotiating sides, according to the Taliban political spokesperson Naeem Wardak, held a meeting earlier this week and stressed on continuation of peace talks.
Russia might soon host another round of talks based on the Moscow format. Russian Special Envoy Zamir Kabulov said that he was tasked to broker the stalemate, as the negotiating sides did not have a meeting for a month. Kabulov also proposed the creation of an inclusive transitional coalition government.The US-Taliban deal of February 2020 envisaged the departure of all foreign forces from the country by May this year in return for the Taliban agreeing to sever all links with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.
However, the withdrawal is unlikely to take place on the due date. NATO defense ministers did not commit the organization to any withdrawal of forces. NATO currently has about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan in addition to 2,500 US troops. There are an estimated 15,000 contractor forces deployed in the country besides the CIA-sponsored militias. Hence, NATO consensus is that foreign forces may not be pulled out by the deadline stipulated in the US-Taliban peace agreement.
According to the Afghan government and the United States, the Taliban have not severed their ties with international terrorist groups. Afghan first vice president shared a picture and tweeted that “Ansar-Allah is a Central Asian terrorist outfit akin to IS or DAESH. Taliban have provided bases and sanctuaries for this group.” He added, “The man in the picture Abu Omar is commander of this outfit who is at this VERY MOEMENT with the Talibs. Talibs are the reason for terror eco system.”A UN official Edmund Fitton-Brown also said, “We believe that the top leaders of al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection.”The intra-Afghan dialogue started in September last year and is continuing with no significant outcome so far. The Taliban, in reaction to the US act of reviewing the agreement, delayed the talks for a month and sent their delegations to the neighboring countries, including Iran and Russia. They also sent an open letter to the Biden administration and urged for the troop withdrawal. However, the US and NATO said that the withdrawal would be conditions-based.
Russia is one of the key stakeholders in the peace process. Although Moscow officially designated the Taliban as a terrorist organization, this has not precluded it from engaging with the group on a political basis so as to incorporate it into the peace process. Russian hosted the Taliban on multiple occasions. These events were symbolic considering the fact that the Taliban grew out of the 1980s Mujahidin movement that was formed to fight against the Soviet military during Russia’s ultimately disastrous interference there during the last decade of the Old Cold War.Russia is able to play an important diplomatic role in the Afghan peace process. However, hosting the Taliban symbolically, which will increase their international reputation will not be acceptable to the Kabul administration. Hence, if the upcoming meeting was not conducted in accordance with the Afghan government, the representatives from Afghanistan is unlikely to attend it.
Recently, the Taliban leadership has reportedly called on their members to avoid harboring foreign fighters and not allow them to join their ranks. “All heads and mujahidin are directed to avoid arbitrary move to bring in foreign nationals into their ranks or harbor them,” said the Taliban in a statement.
With this in mind, the US, NATO and regional stakeholders have to put pressure on the Taliban to cut their ties with international terrorist groups and negotiate genuinely with the Afghan government.All regional and global stakeholders have to engage constructively in the Afghan peace process and push the Taliban to reduce violence against Afghan soldiers and civilians. Since ceasefire is a top priority for the republic team, the Taliban have to agree with it in order to pave the ground for striking a peace deal.Sincerity in the talks as well as in hosting the Taliban delegations is a must. The Taliban have to prover their sincerity, if they ever have, through reducing violence and agreeing with ceasefire. Regional and global stakeholders, mainly those which reiterate that they have played important role in the peace process, need to convince the Taliban to declare ceasefire and honor their deal with the United States. In short, the US and NATO forces are unlikely to withdraw from the country unless the Taliban honor the peace deal and reduce their violence.