Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, April 4th, 2020

What does Taliban Want: Peace or Power?

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What does Taliban Want: Peace or Power?

The intra-Afghan peace negotiation was expected to start on March 10, 2020 following the implementation of the US -Taliban agreement and phased American withdrawal but the Taliban behavior and inflexibility indicate that they are not seeking such a peace which results joining the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  After the violence reduction plan and after the US-Taliban peace deal, they intensified attacks and increased hostage- taking from civilian passengers to complete the number their captives for exchange with the government. They launched successive attacks on Afghan security forces which were not only on contrast to spirit of peace agreement but also on contrary to their ideology fighting against foreigners who occupied the country. Since the US-Taliban agreement, there has been no secure place in Afghanistan except those foreign bases which previously justified the legitimacy Taliban violence or Jehad in the country. If the US military had not responded with airstrikes to aid their Afghan allies in Helmand province, the war could farther intensify in the country. In light of this, a number of high-ranking military generals and political experts have expressed doubts about the likelihood of a 14-month withdrawal timeline, let alone that of the Taliban living up to its commitments to the U.S. That makes the U.S. withdrawal a risky maneuver and makes the deal extremely fragile.
The second issue that divulges the actual intention of Taliban is the controversial issue of 5,000 prisoners. The U.S.-Taliban deal requires the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the time talks kick off, in return for 1,000 Afghan government security forces held by the Taliban. Thereof, In March 01, 2020, the government, which was not a party to the deal, rejected the U.S. and Taliban’s call for a prisoner exchange. In fact, President Ashraf Ghani was logical that such an agreement would require further negotiation and could not be implemented as a precondition for future peace talks. He also said that he was not interested to keep Taliban in prisons if the Taliban truthfully join peace process. Obviously, Ghani thought such a possibility would be a vital piece of leverage for Kabul as part of the Oslo talks.  However, in response, the Taliban resumed offensive operations against Afghan security forces on March 3, which were responded to by U.S. airstrikes.
Now that Ghani signed a decree ordering the Afghan government to start releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners as of March 14 and asked the Taliban for guarantees that they would not resume the fight,  Taliban has rejects the plan saying they will not Intra-Afghan talks unless collectively release all the prisoners. The question automatically is raised why the collective releases of 5000 prisoners are important for Taliban. From one hand, Afghan government and Afghan people are tired of long war and conflicts emphasizing on peace and putting an end to war in the country. On the other hand, the hard-line position of Taliban put the government at a hard situation whether to accept the risk of releasing the large number prisoners or not. In fact, there is no legal basis to accept release of 5000 prisoners as precondition for intra-Afghan peace talks and there is no guarantee whether they would or would not return to the battle field or not join other terrorists in the country. In the past there were multiple reports indicated that the prisoners who were released from the prisons had returned to the battle fields. So, the collective release of 5000 fighters would be dangerous for the national security. Therefore, the government gradual release of 5,000 is relative good privilege for Taliban if they had intended to put end to war in the country.
In response to above question, it seems that Taliban rejection shows that The Taliban seeks to integrate its fighters against Afghan security forces, change the constitution and everything and then finally hold power in the country. Though Opposition figures may think that they can outsmart the Taliban seemingly they would not succeed as the Taliban has been playing this game for a long time, using violence whenever it requires, especially given that its fighters outnumber the Afghan government’s forces.  The recent political tensions and divisions could also weaken the government in Kabul and would make Taliban’s job a lot easier. In addition, the Taliban could make as much as $1.5 billion a year, according to estimates. Much of this income comes from the drugs trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium – a key element in the manufacture of heroin. Much of the crop is grown in Taliban-held territories. Meanwhile, the group also collects taxes in the areas it governs. This makes the Taliban not just militarily, but also financially, more powerful than Kabul. If international financial aid to the Afghan government is cut or decreased in the wake of the U.S.-Taliban deal, the group’s influence and power will increase in parallel. As is widely known, Trump’s priorities always revolve around cutting expenses, so an aid cut is not an unlikely possibility, and the Afghan government should be ready for such a move.
Based on this, any hopes and optimism that Taliban may show flexibility in the last moment will not be realistic. Similarly, any hopes and optimism that the foreigners will always protect the cities and country against destructives terrorist attacks will not be sensible. Recently, Donald Trump said, “Eventually, countries have to take care of themselves.” Trump even said that it was possible that the Taliban could overrun the Afghan military following a U.S. withdrawal. So now, instead of wondering if the deal was just for the Americans, alone or Afghans would also benefit from the deal, we should altogether stand against any unacceptable demands which endanger the past achievements and values.

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

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