Negotiations with Taliban proved U.S. policy in Afghanistan has badly failed: Pakistani analyst

Christel Deskins

TEHRAN – A Pakistani political analyst says U.S. military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan “has badly failed”. “Bush’s policy in Afghanistan was solely based on a military solution to the conflict — by a force that badly failed after eight years of a robust campaign,” Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai tells […]

TEHRAN – A Pakistani political analyst says U.S. military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan “has badly failed”.

“Bush’s policy in Afghanistan was solely based on a military solution to the conflict — by a force that badly failed after eight years of a robust campaign,” Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai tells the Tehran Times.

Yousafzai, the author of the book titled “The Troubled Triangle: U.S.-Pakistan Relations under the Taliban’s Shadow”, also says the Trump administration will pressure the Afghan government to conclude an agreement with the Taliban “as soon as possible”.

The talks between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that includes members of the government began Saturday, Sept. 12, in a diplomatic breakthrough that is expected to bring the country a step closer to peace after four decades of war.

Following is the text of the interview with Yousafzai:

Q: What are the most important topics of intra-Afghan talks?

A: The most important thing in the intra-Afghan talks is peace — an objective of both the parties to the conflict: The Afghan government and the Taliban. However, their approaches are quite different, to the end. For the Afghan government, a cease-fire will be on the top of the agenda and try to bargain for more gains like women’s rights, the Afghan constitution, and the future direction of democracy in the country. On the other hand, the Taliban are in a quite strong position and will try to make a deal like that with the U.S., where the agreement was called a victory for the Taliban by many experts — including Bruce Riedel — an analyst and former CIA official.

As for as the power-sharing is concerned, it will be determined by the parties’ negotiation skills and position to the conflict. The current political system is favorable to the current administration in Kabul. Nonetheless, the Taliban want drastic changes in the system — to make it Islamic. Still, it’s not clear how they define their Islamic system, where they have to accept women’s rights and some democratic norms. Time will further deduce its orientation, yet the Taliban’s position shows they will make a road for their objectives to implement.

Not only the principal parties of this conflict, but regional countries also have an unsaid consensus on giving peace a chance.

Q: What is the role of the U.S. in these talks? Why did the U.S. enter talks with the Taliban after two decades of war? Doesn’t it indicate U.S. failure in Afghanistan?

A: The U.S. has quite an important role in these talks, and the Kabul administration can take no major step that the U.S. doesn’t want. In the post-9/11 Afghanistan, the U.S. has been the real decision-maker. The U.S. kept the Afghan government out of the deal they made with the Taliban about Afghanistan, quite an embarrassing situation for the Ashraf Ghani administration.

Besides, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban almost after two decades, yet the former had started this process back in 2009 when Obama entered the Oval Office. The Obama administration formulated a different policy for Afghanistan; the end was the U.S. withdrawal. The policy was to fight and talk in which an option can make a way forward. Earlier, President Bush’s policy was solely based on a military solution to the conflict — by a force that badly failed after eight years of a robust campaign.

The U.S. agreement with the Taliban has saved their face to some extent where they can show we were there for peace in Afghanistan. We had to make it clear the land would not be used against the U.S., its interests, and its allies in the future.

Here the guarantee is the U.S.-Taliban agreement. Nevertheless, their campaign against the Taliban has badly failed that was to crush them. Pakistan had even suggested the U.S. in 2002 to mainstream the Taliban. Yet the U.S. did not take it seriously and continued its operations.

Taliban acted on ‘keeping all balls in the air” policy. Hostilities continued, but the channel for initiating talks remained open. Taliban learned that using Afghan soil’s against other countries has very serious consequences. This learning has induced greater clarity in their stance and will positively influence their relations with neighboring countries.

Q: Do you predict that the two sides of the talks will ultimately reach an agreement, especially on the shape of the future government?

A: As far as reaching an agreement is concerned, it is apparent as there is no other way with the Afghan government to take. The Taliban has the option to fight further for some years, yet the Afghan forces cannot defend the country. That is why certain parts of the country are under Taliban control, and many are contested.

Besides, the U.S.’s role is also quite important in shaping the intra-Afghan talks. The Ghani administration knows it well that Trump wants a withdrawal that will ultimately pose a threat to his government in the absence of strong security. Because of this facet, Ghani, many times, requested the U.S. not to withdraw at this stage. Furthermore, Trump will pressure the Afghan government to make a deal before the U.S. Presidential elections. The future type of government in Kabul is hard to predict at the moment despite the Taliban’s standpoint that seems dominant.

These negotiations are the “long game,”’ while parties will stubbornly stock to what benefits them at others’ cost. Like the Afghan government that doesn’t want a U.S. withdrawal because the cost of security is being incurred by the U.S. Similarly, those officials who will be reduced to the residue of war if peace comes they will struggle to protect the status quo.

Q: As the Qatar talks begin, against the backdrop of an American troop pullout and grievous violence against Afghan officials and civilians, some critics of the process argued that the Taliban insurgency was still, in essence, holding a gun to the government’s head. What is your comment?

A: When the U.S.-Taliban talks we’re underway, there was no cease-fire except a week-long “Reduction in Violence” as a confidence-building measure. Such a move may be the case during the intra-Afghan talks. Although the Afghan government will try its best to put a cease-fire on the top of the agenda yet, little chances are there, the Taliban will accept it before any major breakthrough. If there was no violence on the part of the Taliban, why would the U.S. and then the Afghan government come to the table? Taliban convert their gains in the battlefield to the one on the table.

The upswing in turmoil and the U.S. push will increase pressure on Kabul to conclude an agreement as soon as possible. The Ghani administration is delaying the process hoping if Biden wins the U.S. presidential elections, he may revoke the deal with the Taliban. President Ghani is not concerned about the Afghan populace’s lives but thinks about his own position to remain in power as long as possible. On the next day of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, Ghani announced he wouldn’t release Taliban prisoners, and now after six months, he did it. The cost of this delay is the Afghan forces who got killed in the violence. If Ghani had released the prisoners in time, the situation might be different now.

Moreover, U.S. domestic politics is instrumental. No state can sustain the war fatigue for long, and the U.S. is no exception. The costs for both sides are different; the U.S. lost its wealth and the Taliban their lives. These costs have become unbearably high for both sides, so this liability will be cleared as soon as possible.

Q: Holding the meeting in Qatar is against the Afghan government’s will. So, why did it happen? What has made Qatar qualified to host peace talks on Afghanistan?

A: The Afghan government is not against the negotiations in Qatar. However, when the Qatar office was established in 2013, differences emerged between the Taliban and the then-president Hamid Karzai on the issue of the flag the Taliban placed on the building. Later on, with the passage of time, differences mend, yet Kabul wanted direct negotiations with the Taliban while they preferred to have an agreement with the U.S. first and then with the Kabul administration. When the Taliban were planning to establish an office outside Afghanistan after Obama wanted a negotiation process, they preferred to be outside Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries with whom they had close contact before the U.S. invasion. Qatar had not any role in Afghanistan previously; thus, it was a good choice. In addition, Qatar has been involved in some high-profile conflict mediations since 2007-08, when it played a role in resolving the Lebanese conflict and mediated between the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur. Qatar’s proactive foreign policy has raised its international profile and clout.

Q: Since the peace talks with the Taliban started, women have raised concerns that their rights and freedom may be violated again. Do you think the government will make concessions in this regard?

A: The Taliban’s actual stance vis-a-vis women’s rights is still unclear, yet they often reiterate to give women their due rights according to Islamic law. The bargaining power of the parties will affect the terms of the future agreement.

One way of reducing backlash is getting the Islamic traditions and practices codified and approved by the parliament. The law of the land always stems from customs, and if the majority agrees on certain practices, it will be their democratic right to do so.

Q: What will happen to the Taliban fighters in case of a peace agreement? Will they be integrated into the army while the Taliban insist on dissolving the national army?

A: Taliban have thousands of active fighters who will obviously be integrated to the Afghan forces if they strike any deal with Kabul. The inclusion of the Taliban fighters will strengthen the Afghan forces if the deal proves successful. The Afghan national army cannot be dissolved.

The ISIS and other terrorist groups’ clout can be easily curtailed through a joint force of Taliban and Afghan forces.

Taliban fighters are battle-hardened, and their training and expertise will be valuable in defending frontiers and the general law and order situation within the country.

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