Trump has no option but to resume Afghan peace talks soon

AFP

by Yead Mirza 12 October 2019

In early-September, the US President Donald Trump called-off the peace negotiations with the Taliban after they had carried-out a suicide car bomb attack that took several lives in Kabul, including a US soldier.

The decision to call-off the negotiations came at a time when some sort of agreement was about to be reached between the USA and the Taliban. This decision had also ended the possibility of a meeting among Trump, the Taliban and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the Camp David presidential retreat.

However, the other stakeholders to the conflict, including the Afghans across community/tribal lines, shouldn’t worry much about the call-off decision. This is because, this was not a policy decision, but a temporary move for Trump’s domestic political gain and for earning leverages at the negotiation table from the other stakeholders to the conflict, including the Taliban.

Indeed, USA’s growing desperation to end the Afghan war – driven by the understanding of costs and benefits of the longdrawn conflict –  would bring about a positive result for achieving peace in not-so-distant future.

USA DESPERATELY WANTS A DEAL

The USA has long been working for a peace deal with the Talibans. The current administration in particular is desperate to reach a deal with the insurgent group to end the longdrawn conflict, which has been costing the USA billions of dollars each year.

The participation of the Americans, the Chinese, the Pakistanis and the Talibans at the same negotiation table clearly reflected the seriousness of the stakeholders in achieving peace.

REASONS BEHIND CALLING-OFF THE TALKS

Following the call-off decision, many observers questioned Trump’s seriousness about reaching a deal with the Talibans. They blamed his indecisive nature for the decision.

But things are not exactly how they look like on the surface.

Trump’s indecisiveness was not the reason behind this call-off decision. Nor was it the recent death of the US soldier in Kabul, as it’s not the first time the US soldiers have died at the hands of the Talibans during the 18 years of Afghan war.

It is instead the other factors – including Trump’s pressure tactic, the 9/11 anniversary and the coming 2020 US presidential election – which pushed the administration to call-off the talks.

COINCIDING WITH 9/11

The attack on Twin-towers on September 11, 2001 was the official reason for the USA to start the Afghan war. So, Trump could have faced fierce criticism if he had met the Taliban delegate or singed a deal with them in September, the month of 9/11 anniversary. Even an announcement about some kind of progress toward the deal could have invited criticisms from various corners within the USA.

Hence, Trump perhaps thought that the best option for the time-being would be to halt the negotiations so that he can skip the talks in the anniversary month and, later, may choose to resume talks when the overall circumstances are in his favour.

TRUMP’S PRESSURE TACTIC

This overall circumstances include not just the 9/11 anniversary, but also a number of other factors, including Trump’s pressure tactic and the coming USA Presidential election in 2020.

The pressure tactic here is not similar to the ones that Trump uses against Iran or Venezuela, nor the one that Trump used against North Korea to compel Kim Jong-un to sit on the negotiating table. It’s far lesser in scope than those.

Like the Americans, patience is running out for the Talibans too. They have been fighting the Americans and other NATO forces as well as the Afghan national army for nearly two decades. Prior to this, there were internal armed conflicts among various Afghan groups during the Taliban rule.

Even prior to all these, the Afghans, including the Taliban, were involved in fierce war against the Soviets.

After repeatedly going through wars, any community or insurgent group – no matter how tough they are – would be hungry for peace. Trump understands this very well. That’s why his administration had tried, through the negotiations, to give the Talibans some hope for a sustainable peace so that the administration could lure them into further desperation to achieve a deal with the Americans partially, certainly not totally, on American terms.

When that indeed started to happen – i.e. when the Talibans were eagerly and desperately engaging in peace talks with all their hopes up – Trump perhaps thought that this was the perfect time to tease the Talibans a little for compelling them to make compromises and agree on the terms that his administration has been seeking to include in the deal.

COMING 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

The US Presidential election will be held in November 2020 — a factor which could perhaps have some contribution to Trump’s decision to call-off the talks.

Trump might have feared that the stakeholders had been trying to reach an agreement ‘too fast’ — something which could not have produced a sustainable peace. Rushing toward a deal ‘too fast’ might have failed to connect the dots.

In this context, after reaching any sort of agreement to stop the hostilities if conflict was resumed again before the 2020 US election, this could have given Trump’s rivals the perfect ground to criticize his ability and to wash-off his achievement. This certainly could have negatively impacted his prospect in the election.

Hence, with the decision to call-off the negotiations, Trump has essentially bought some time, which was necessary to achieve a sustainable peace agreement. After this ‘call-off’ episode, the Talibans now won’t expect a quick deal.

The Trump administration will soon resume the talks and will take all the time it can to negotiate bit by bit in order to make sure that the agreement that it expects to reach would be sustainable, atleast for a substantial period of time.

PEACE TO COME SOONER THAN LATER

The reasons – which have been discussed above – behind the USA’s decision to call-off the talks with the Talibans do not indicate that it was made as a policy decision. It was instead a decision aimed for domestic political gains for Trump and for earning leverages at the negotiation table from the other stakeholders including the Taliban.

Hence, Trump hasn’t put a ‘full-stop’ to the negotiations with the call-off decision. Instead, his decision has merely put a ‘comma’ to the talks. The current situation can be, at worst, described as ‘pause’ or ‘halt’.

The desperation to end the Afghan conflict is unlikely to wane, as the benefit of ending the unwinnable conflict is far more greater than continuing a costly war. Hence, the USA’s growing desperation – driven by the understanding of costs and benefits of the longdrawn conflict – would bring about a positive result for achieving peace in the war-torn Afghanistan in not-so-distant future.

This article was originally published on Oped Column Syndication.

This article was originally published on Oped Column Syndication”, [for print version, useCopyright © Oped Column Syndicationinstead].

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