The State of Afghanistan Peace Talks
By: Christian Hawkes
Photo: Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2019.
On September 5, 2019, a suicide car bombing ripped through downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, killing ten people, including a U.S. soldier. The Taliban claimed responsibility for this and another attack three days earlier that killed sixteen people just east of the capital city. In response, President Donald Trump publicly called off a secret meeting with Taliban officials scheduled for that weekend and declared that peace negotiations were “dead.” This breakdown in talks marks the ninth time that talks have been proposed and subsequently fallen apart since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan in 2001.
The consistent breakdowns in negotiations have led to finger-pointing by all sides, and each side accuses the other of being unreasonable and sabotaging any potential for peace. Negotiations between the United States and the Taliban have sought to address key issues: a Taliban agreement to not facilitate foreign militants using Afghanistan as a base to coordinate terror attacks, a complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO military forces, inter-Afghan peace negotiations, and a permanent ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The United States is eager to exit the country after 18 years of military operations and a public perception that no end is in sight, but is unwilling to exit without an end to insurgent operations against military and civilian targets in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, meanwhile, has goals that are incompatible with U.S. and Aghan government interests. Since their ousting in 2001 by U.S. forces, the former-government-turned-insurgency has sought to re-establish an Islamist regime in Afghanistan, and views the U.S.-backed secular government as illegitimate and an obstacle to that goal. A trickling withdrawal by the United States and NATO has led to its resurgence, but there are still over 100 districts contested between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban views violent attacks as the only form of leverage it has in the talks, and is unwilling to fully give up this bargaining chip.
While the Taliban and the United States seek a consensus on these issues, the Afghan government has felt largely left out of the peace process, but has been hesitant to outright condemn negotiations. President Ashraf Ghani has expressed concern over any sudden and complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, worried that any troop withdrawal before intra-Afghan talks yield success will put the Afghan government in danger of attack by the Taliban. Despite these concerns, he has been hesitant to put an end to any peace talks, fearing that any serious condemnation or outright rejection of peace talks would make him appear as spoiling any chance at peace and end any chance of reelection.
talks between the United States and the Taliban are suspended, there is little
doubt that peace talks will resume, and sooner rather than later. The United
States is eager to withdraw, and the Afghan government and Taliban are eager to
put a definitive end to what has been referred to as an endless war. Though
questions mount and all sides blame each other for being uncooperative or for
subverting the peace process, a shared desire to end the war will ultimately
bring them back to the negotiating table. Indeed, within two months of
President Trump declaring peace talks “dead,” reports are circling that the
United States and Taliban officials are discussing restarting negotiations.
Whether this tenth round of talks will result in any definitive peace remains
to be seen.
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