Donald Trump is in a hurry to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban knows this. If the Taliban agree to a ceasefire, it would be temporary, and only if they are convinced it will hasten Washington’s exit, writes LtGen Prakash Chand Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor
By Lt Gen Prakash Chand Katoch (retd) Jul 24, 2019
The joint statement after the four-party China, Russia, US and Pakistan meeting on the Afghan peace process, held in Beijing on July 10 – 11, highlighted several key issues: Joint efforts are required to realize a political settlement to advance peace, stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region, emphasizing the importance of the trilateral consensus reached in Moscow on April 25; relevant parties need to grasp the opportunity for peace and start intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban, Afghan government and other Afghans, through Afghan-led and Afghan-owned negotiations; work out a peace framework acceptable to all Afghans, guaranteeing orderly transition and an inclusive political arrangement; encourage all parties for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire; maintain the momentum of consultations and invite other stakeholders to join, on the basis of the consensus agreed in Moscow for the next intra-Afghan negotiations.
Pakistan joined these talks for the first time, since it was felt Pakistan could play an important role in facilitating Afghan peace. Pakistan has been part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) comprising the US, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, with a similar belief. The first five QCG meetings saw a roadmap outlined for peace but, after the meetings, Pakistan was accused by the Afghan media of not fulfilling its promises and the Taliban abstained from the sixth QCG meeting in January 2017.
In this four-party meeting, China, Russia and Pakistan all want the US to exit Afghanistan. In any case, the Taliban is crucial for Washington’s exit and is supported by China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran.
The latest round of US-Taliban peace talks at Doha, Qatar, on July 7-8 was the first time Afghan government officials met face-to-face talks with the Taliban, though in their personal, not ‘official’ capacity.
The Taliban has consistently refused to meet Afghan government officials, calling them “Western puppets,” but agreed to meet individuals in the Afghan government who are part of an intra-Afghan delegation that includes opposition politicians, women, and members of NGOs.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, said negotiations were closer than ever before to agreement on withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan; a permanent cease-fire; Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used as base for attacks in other countries and intra-Afghan dialogue, leading to political settlement. The Taliban reportedly said they are “happy with the progress.”
It needs no imagination to fathom that, for the Taliban, the most crucial issue is withdrawal of foreign troops (US-NATO) from Afghanistan. The Taliban has been increasing attacks to force the US to exit soonest. Multiple terrorist attacks have been launched by the Taliban in July; 40 people, including children, were killed and over 100 injured in an attack in Kabul on July 1, and police officers and civilians killed in attacks on a hotel in northwestern Afghanistan on July 13 – just days after the Doha peace talks. A July US Department of Defense release states that total US military casualties in Afghanistan are 4410 dead; of which 3,481 were killed in action and 929 in ‘non-hostile’ action.
US President Donald Trump is in a hurry to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban knows this. If at all the Taliban agree to a ceasefire, it would be temporary, and only if they are convinced it will hasten Washington’s exit.
When former US President Barack Obama announced the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s former DG ISI Asad Durrani delivered a speech in London in which, Myra Macdonald said, “it was hard to miss the note of triumph. Afghanistan, he said, had already seen off two major world powers – the British Empire in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th. Now a third, the US, was heading for an exit. For anyone who believes Pakistan’s aim in Afghanistan all along has been to turn the clock back to Sept 10, 2001 – when it exercised its influence over the country through its Taliban allies – it could almost have been a victory speech”.
Now Pakistan Premier Imran Khan is already talking of a “new government” in Afghanistan, for which the Afghan Government sought an explanation from Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul and recalled its Ambassador from Islamabad when Khan called for setting up an interim government in Kabul, saying the present government is a hurdle in peace talks.
The UN Financial Action Task Force pressure on Pakistan is relevant only to terror financing, not terror attacks. Sensing a US exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan has stepped up engagements at multiple levels. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, visited Britain in June for talks with the senior civil and military leadership, “to discuss matters of mutual interest including evolving geo-strategic environment, defence and security” the ISPR release stated. Afghanistan was obviously discussed. Concurrently, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister visited NATO Headquarters on June 24 to discuss “issues of mutual concern” (including Afghanistan) with the NATO Secretary General. Significantly, NATO and Pakistan have increased activities of practical cooperation, including annual military-to-military staff talks and Pakistani military officers’ participation in around 50 military training activities with NATO.
Before Khan’s visit to the US to meet Trump, Washington sprung a surprise: The US designated the Baloch Liberation Army as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ organisation, thus legalizing Pakistan’s genocide on the hapless Baloch population. The timing of the announcement and its implication is evident. With Trump going soft on Pakistan, a resolution on Afghanistan is likely to favour the Taliban and, in turn, Islamabad.
(The author is Distinguished Fellow, USI. He can be contacted at [email protected])