After almost a year of talks, we’re told the deal for a lasting peace in Afghanistan is agreed  -‘ In principle’. A deal? Maybe. A lasting peace? That’s not necessarily the same thing.

Parts of the Taliban are indeed talking with the U.S. about the withdrawal of its (and NATO) forces, and are poised to accept a gradual pull out. They are in a position of strength. They hold, or at least control, more territory than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001, and they know President Trump wants out.

America’s Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, says he’s negotiating with the Taliban.  He’s not.  The U.S. talks are with the Mullah Baradar faction which itself is a faction of the Quetta Shura Taliban. Other, stronger, Taliban groups do not answer to Mullah Baradar, who was released from a Pakistani prison last year, nor does the Afghan ISIS affiliate – IS-KP –  nor does Al Qa’ida. Since the death of Mullah Omar, the Taliban has a fragmented leadership – so, if the US demands are met by one group – they may not be upheld by the rest  – including the Taliban’s powerful Haqqani Network which has strong ties with Al Qa’ida.

The Americans want a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow foreign armed groups in Afghanistan in case they use it as a base to launch attacks outside the country. They fear ‘safe spaces’ in which a new generation of terrorists from around the world could be trained. They also want the Taliban to open talks with the Kabul Government, and a permanent ceasefire. The issue of women’s rights appears to have fallen off the table and there is a notable lack of woman with influence over the negotiations.

There are about 14,000 U.S. troops there plus around 17,000 from NATO related countries – the latter have non-combat roles. The proposed deal sees 5,000 US troops leaving by January. There is the possibility that the Americans will leave a few Special Forces units and also expand the CIA presence. This would help the Americans protect Kabul, including with airstrikes, in the event that after a withdrawal the Taliban continued to seek full control of the country. It might also avoid the embarrasing spectacle of a Saigon style emergency evacuation of the U.S. Embassy as the Talibs close in…

The talks have been conducted amid the backdrop of continuing violence with numerous Taliban attacks.  Mr Khalilzad says there’s an agreement ‘In Principle’. He hopes it’s achieved before the Afghan Presidential election on September 28th. It’s possible, it’s possible other Taliban groups could buy in although there are few signs of that. In any case – there’s some way to go. The withdrawal timeline has not been agreed – and the Taliban still refuses to talk with what it regards a puppet government.

What the Americans seem to want is a dignified withdrawal in order to argue that their longest war has not ended in defeat  – and that they have not abandoned Afghanistan. An agreement, even with just a part of the Talban, could allow the argument to be made. Believed? That’s another matter…

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1 Comment on "Sightline: Taliban"

  1. The ultimate solution appears to be – take out the visible personnel; allow the Taliban the chance to show they are trustworthy (they are not); then use covert operations to limit their power. Less taxpayer money wasted but influence still present.

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