Afghanistan: Reopening of peace talks
Dr Yatharth Kachiar, Research Associate, VIF

President Trump, during his surprise visit to Afghanistan on 28 November, has once again shifted the contour of US foreign policy towards the Taliban by declaring that the US has renewed the peace talks with the armed group. What is unique in this reengagement is President Trump’s emphasis on the US’s demand for the ceasefire from the Taliban in order to move ahead with the peace agreement.1 This is a clear shift from the previous American foreign policy where the demand for a nationwide ceasefire was put in cold storage in order to achieve a peace agreement at the earliest.

Previously, before the negotiations broke down in September 2019, it was agreed by the US and the Taliban in the draft agreement that the ‘safe zones’ will be created in the provinces from where the US forces were supposed to withdraw, and the ceasefire will be announced only in such safe zones.2 It remains unclear how the US negotiators are planning to get the Taliban to agree for a comprehensive ceasefire when they could not do so earlier. It is important to note that since the Taliban is not a homogenous group, agreeing for a ceasefire before the withdrawal of foreign forces will possibly create an existential threat for the armed group. As an analyst observes, “the Taliban believe they will not be able to rally their forces again if they ask their fighters to stop fighting and then the deal breaks down.” 3

The decision to revive talks with the Taliban within three months of calling it off shows the erratic nature of the US foreign policy under the Trump administration. In September 2019, President Trump had cancelled the year-long negotiations with the Taliban indicating the rampant violence unleashed by the armed group in Afghanistan as the reason for the deadlock. As figure 1 indicates, the major incidents and high-profile attacks in Afghanistan have dropped down considerably in recent weeks, specifically in November 2019. This is chiefly because of the covert US diplomacy with the Taliban which eventually resulted in a prisoner swap deal with the armed group in November 2019.4 However, it nowhere indicates a complete halt in violence by the Taliban. In fact, as an analyst observes, in the past few months although there seems to be a reduction in major incidents; however, “smaller, more targeted attacks have been on the rise.” 5


Figure 1: Major terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in 2019

Source: South Aisa Terrorism Portal6

Furthermore, the US decision to restart the talks with the Taliban has come in the midst of a political crisis in Afghanistan. Almost after two months of casting the votes in the Presidential elections, the people in Afghanistan are still waiting for the results which are repeatedly been delayed due to recounting of votes. The opposition candidates have been protesting against the recounting of approximately 300,000 votes which they claim to be non-biometric and fraudulent and could potentially decide the outcome of first round of election either in favor of Mr. Ghani or Mr. Abdullah. The turnout in the Presidential elections this time was below two million and according to various reports the competition was largely between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah. The other candidates in the election “drew close to 200,000 of the votes, making it harder for either of the top contenders to reach 50 percent threshold required to win the elections.”7 The political paralysis was further deepened when the election team of Mr. Abdullah launched protests against what they claim “fraud in elections”.8

Unlike the 2014 Presidential elections, when the US-brokered a deal between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah and made them partners in a coalition government, any stalemate in the current fragile political situation will be extremely difficult to break. There are already demands in favor of an interim government because of the failure of electoral process in the country.9 However, in the midst of current political divide, it will be nearly impossible to form an interim government acceptable to all sides. Moreover, given the shifting stance of US policy vis-à-vis the Taliban and peace negotiations, it is imperative that a credible and stable government lead people of Afghanistan in the upcoming reconciliation process.

The suspension of peace talks by the US with the Taliban didn’t stop the regional countries to host the Taliban delegation and keep the reconciliation process alive in some manner. Recently, on 26 November, Iran hosted the Taliban delegation in Tehran to discuss the peaceful solution to the Afghan issue and migrant problems in Iran.10 At the same time, there have been voices such as former Commander of the US Central Command David H. Petraeus, who strongly emphasizes the need for adopting a non-negotiable position on Taliban’s linkages with the terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and other extremists in the region. According to an op-ed penned by David H. Petraeus recently in The Washington Post, “the experience of recent military operations in Afghanistan underscores that al-Qaeda’s links to the Taliban remain strong.”1 He further observes that “the Taliban as recently as this summer still wouldn’t admit that al-Qaeda was the 9/11 perpetrator.”12 Therefore, before finalizing any peace deal with the Taliban, it is imperative that the international community including the regional players ask the armed group to prove the sincerity of their claim of breaking ties with al-Qaeda by cooperating with the US in fighting the terrorist and extremist groups in Afghanistan.13

As an important partner in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, India has always supported an inclusive peace process, led and owned by the Afghans themselves. Over the course of 18 years, India has committed over USD 3 billion to the development of Afghanistan, trained 6000 officers and contributed 350 projects throughout the country.14 Recently, in September 2019, the third annual India-Afghanistan trade show ‘Passage to prosperity’ was launched with the support of USAID. The aim of the trade exhibition is to “stimulate India-Afghanistan trade and facilitate economic development in Afghanistan.”15 Again, in November 2019, remarkable sale by the Afghan traders was observed during the India International Trade Fair in New Delhi.16 On the political front, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan Vinay Kumar once again emphasized India’s commitment to Afghanistan’s peace and stability and stressed that “sustainable peace in the country in the first place requires the dismantling of infrastructure that supports violence and terrorism.”17 Further, according to media reports, “the European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan Roland Kobia and Uzbekistan's special envoy for Afghanistan Irgashev Ismatulla Raimovich will visit New Delhi next week and discuss Afghanistan.” 18

As a time-tested friend of Afghanistan, India should continue to use its good offices to support the people of Afghanistan in their quest for peace and stability.

References
  1. Haseba Atakpal, Taliban Should Take US Ceasefire ‘Opportunity’: Sediqqi, TOLO News, 1 December 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-should-take-us-ceasefire-%E2%80%98opportunity%E2%80%99-sediqqi
  2. Sayed Sharif Amiri, US And Taliban Make Progress On ‘Safe Zones’: Sources, Al Jazeera, 26 August 2019, URL: https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/us-and-taliban-make-progress-safe-zones-sources
  3. Mujib Mashal, In Afghanistan Trump creates confusion over US policy on Taliban, The New York Times, 29 November 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/29/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-peace-talks-ghani-trump.html
  4. David Zucchino and Adam Goldman, Two Western Hostages Are Freed in Afghanistan in Deal With Taliban, The New York Times, 19 November 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/19/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-prisoner-exchange-peace-talks.html
  5. Mujib Mashal, American aid worker for UN is killed in Afghan capital, The New York Times, 25 November 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/25/world/asia/american-un-killed-afghanistan.html
  6. South Asia Terrorism Portal, URL: https://www.satp.org/datasheet-terrorist-attack/major-incidents/afghanistan
  7. Mujib Mashal, Afghan Vote Crawls Toward Crisis, With No Results After 2 Months, The New York Times, 22 November 2019, URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/22/world/asia/afghanistan-election-ghani-abdullah.html
  8. Abdullah’s Campaign Supporters Launch Protest in Kabul, TOLO News, 29 November 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/abdullah%E2%80%99s-campaign-supporters-launch-protest-kabul
  9. Massoud Ansar, Politicians Working on Plan to ‘End Crisis’, TOLO News, 1 December 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/politicians-working-plan-%E2%80%98end-crisis%E2%80%99
  10. Sayed Sharif Amiri, Taliban Delegation Visits Iran to Discuss Afghan Peace, TOLO News, 27 November 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/taliban-delegation-visits-iran-discuss-afghan-peace
  11. David H. Petraeus and Vance Serchuk, “Trump was right to abandon the Taliban peace deal. Here’s what a good one would look like.”, The Washington Post, 14 November 2019, URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/11/14/trump-was-right-abandon-taliban-peace-deal-heres-what-good-one-would-look-like/
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid
  14. Haseeba Atakpal, Afghan Peace Should be Inclusive: Indian Envoy, TOLO News, 28 November 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/afghan-peace-should-be-inclusive-indian-envoy
  15. Third Annual Passage to prosperity India-Afghanistan trade show open with USAID support, USAID, URL: https://www.usaid.gov/afghanistan/news-information/press-releases/Sep-24-2019-Third-Annual-Passage-to-Prosperity-Trade-Show-Opens-with-USAID-Support
  16. Tahir Qadiry, Afghan Envoy to India: We Are Moving from Aid to Trade, TOLO News, 2 December 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/opinion/afghan-envoy-india-we-are-moving-aid-trade
  17. Haseeba Atakpal, Afghan Peace Should be Inclusive: Indian Envoy, TOLO News, 28 November 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/afghan-peace-should-be-inclusive-indian-envoy
  18. EU, Uzbek Special Envoys to Meet in India to Discuss Afghanistan, TOLO News, 1 December 2019, URL: https://tolonews.com/afghanistan/eu-uzbek-special-envoys-meet-india-discuss-afghanistan

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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