Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, June 17th, 2019

Peace Talks Put US at a Crossroads

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Peace Talks Put US at a Crossroads

The US’ abrupt decision for decreasing its military presence in Afghanistan from more than 14,000 troops to about 7,000 is most likely to be the result of its backdoor negotiations with the Taliban’s representatives in Abu Dhabi, organized by Islamabad between the US envoy and the Taliban.
The withdrawal of troops has caused serious concern for US high-level officials and called a “big mistake” and “calamitous” by James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral. “It would lead to the resurgence of the Taliban, who would welcome al-Qaeda back with open arms,” James is cited as saying. Moreover, a number of US lawmakers are of the view that since Donald Trump never set foot in a conflict zone, he lacked the credibility to make decision about the troop pullout in Syria and Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Afghan officials, who had not been warned or consulted about the drawdown, believe it will not affect the security situation in Afghanistan. Unlike the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops in 2014, Afghan grassroots also seem less concerned as the news could not attract much attention on social media.
The drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was predictable since Trump, declaring his strategy about Afghanistan and South Asia last year, said, “Shortly after my inauguration, I directed Secretary of Defense Mattis and my national security team to undertake a comprehensive review of all strategic options in Afghanistan and South Asia. My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.”
But the time-sensitivity made this decision unpredictable and unbelievable as Trump added three major points in his strategy regarding Afghanistan: First, seeking “an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made”. Second, he warned about the horrible consequences of rapid exit adding that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda”. He also disapproved of his predecessor for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Third, he stressed the serious security threat as he stated that “20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Now US officials espouse the very three facts Trump maintained in August 2017, in turn, Jim Mattis resigned as a result of Trump’s decision on military drawdown.
Whether or not the decision about troop withdrawal is the product of a backdoor deal with the Taliban, the insurgents will interpret it as their own triumph. But, unlike the Taliban, being generous on the negotiating table will lead to horrible consequences. I believe that since the conditions are not mutually accepted, the withdrawal of US forces will be one step forward, two steps back. 
Contrary to emerging optimism, the Taliban still seek to play a foul game on the table through holding out against negotiating with Afghan government or accepting any conditions set by their US interlocutor. The Taliban are fighting against Afghan government and killing Afghan soldiers and civilians, however, claim that their insurgency has nothing to do with Kabul government but with foreign forces – this is ridiculous and reaching an agreement with such a groups seems unlikely.
Perhaps, troop pulldown may not affect the security situation in Afghanistan as last-year increase could not mitigate the insurgency, it still has its adverse effect. For example, it will, on the one hand, prompt the Taliban to haggle over higher price on the table and, on the other hand, spread a stronger sense of fear and disappointment in the public air. Thus, Trump had better not follow his instincts in such significant issues and should be sure this is an honorable result, worthy of “the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure” made in the past 17 years. Being at a crossroads, Trump’s administration has to make the right decision.
Meanwhile, regional stakeholders, mainly Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, have to use their leverage on the Taliban and push them to sit around the table with Kabul government and negotiate with bona fide intention. If the Taliban once more play a foul game in the talks, the fragmented pieces of trust will be hardly reparable.
All in all, the 17-year conflict has inflicted casualties on both sides without any light at the end of the tunnel. The continuation of war will lead to further casualties and destructions without any end. With this in mind, all insurgent groups, mainly the Taliban, need to stop their militancy and settle their issue through meaningful negotiations.

Hujjatullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan and freelance writer based in Beijing . He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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