No more than a couple of months ago the US Congress would discuss the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Yet, in spite of an extensive amount of effort invested by the international community into the resolution of the Afghan war, the conflict stretching for now over 18 years just will not end, while the absence of any visible progress on the path toward reconciliation remains a major geopolitical concern for a many international players.
It’s true that the former US ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, after being appointed US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation held a series of meetings with representatives of the Taliban movement but none reaped any visible results. Experts believe that new rounds of negotiations are being protracted because of Washington’s stubborn unwillingness to accept certain conditions put forward by the Taliban, the principal of which is the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban seems to be willing to create an interim government in Afghanistan, but both the US and the sitting Afghan authorities oppose this proposition.
In early May, the sixth round of talks between representatives of the United States and the Taliban movement took place in Qatar. However, from the very first days it became clear that there was no hope that parties could achieve any progress in the foreseeable future. Throughout all of the rounds the United States has been persistently trying to get a seat for the representatives of the Kabul government at the negotiation table with the Taliban, while insisting that the Pentagon is entitled to keep a number of military bases within the territory of Afghanistan. It goes without saying that the Taliban would find both of these propositions unacceptable.
It’s hardly a secret that the Taliban refused to recognize the government of Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, while describing it as a puppet government. Washington’s emissaries persist in stating that the US must keep at least 700 servicemen deployed in Afghanistan under the pretext of protecting the US diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. The lasting presence of the US military, occupying Afghanistan for almost two decades in the territory of this sovereign state, is not something that the Taliban can even consider agreeing to too, so it’s adamant that all US troops must go.
Additionally, the Taliban has reasonable doubts about the future intentions of Washington, as they fear the United States could easily break any obligations that its representatives are inclined to make today, thus hurting the peace process and strengthening the positions of war apologists within the ranks of the Taliban itself, as the latter are fairly confident they can take total power in the country through sheer force.
And one cannot say that the Taliban is being unreasonable in those fears, as the US has acted without consulting with the international community more than on one occasion, while refusing to comply with international norms and breaking deals that it had worked hard to sign years earlier. Here, the Iran nuclear deal inevitably comes to mind.
In would be naive to assume that the leaders of the Taliban movement didn’t pay attention to the statement made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford at the recent congressional hearing, where this high-profile military official stated the Pentagon will maintain a presence in Afghanistan until the all militants operating in this country are eradicated, while adding that American forces must put pressure on “terrorist groups,” otherwise the terrorists will put pressure on the United States. Under these conditions, most international experts agree that Washington is deliberately dragging out the resolution of the Afghan crisis.
But even if the Pentagon withdraws its forces from Afghanistan, this won’t mean Washington has finally allowed this war-torn country to heal its wounds. It’s clear that it’s going to use its intelligence agencies to remain in control of the political situation in Afghanistan, as it became clear from a number of publications in across the Western media that the sitting CIA Director Gina Haspel has recently made a trip to Afghanistan to hold discussions with both Afghanistan’s President Ghani and her Afghan counterpart Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai. Earlier, at the January congressional hearings, the head of the CIA had already announced that her agency would be conducting operations in Afghanistan on a regular basis. By increasing the number and intensity of its cover operations in Afghanistan, the United States makes it clear that it’s determined to keep its foothold in Afghanistan through all means possible, preserving a military force large enough to affect the situation on the ground, while it matters little for Washington what status those forces have.
In this situation the Taliban movement is interested in outside players who can guarantee Washington’s compliance with the deal it may strike with the Taliban one day. Additionally, those players must be capable of ensuring that no foreign assistance will ever reach the Afghan wing of ISIS which is overtly hostile to the Taliban. Among the international players interested in ensuring peace on Afghan soil, only Russia and China fit the description, and it is curious that various Afghan parties are expressing confidence that these two influential powers are capable of ensuring that the US does not consider backstabbing the Taliban. It’s clear that such international organizations as the UN and the OIC have compromised themselves and lost all credibility within the international arena.
As for the aspirations that the Taliban movement may have upon the political stage of Afghanistan after the eventual conclusion of a peace agreement with the United States, it is interested in ensuring that the Pentagon or CIA will not be able to haunt its representatives. To achieve this goal they continue insisting on the role that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) should play in the future of the country. IEA was a partially recognized state that controlled the better part of the territory of Afghanistan and existed in the period from 1996-2001 . At the same time, the Taliban is confident that it would be able to unify Islamic forces at the national level, which have been fighting off invading American forces for almost two decades at various levels. The Taliban has even formed a special Political Bureau of the Islamic Emirate, based in Doha in order to maintain contact with all the external forces who play a role in shaping Afghanistan’s future.
As it did back in the the IEA’s earlier days, the Taliban is determined to make representatives of the Muslim clergy forerunners of their social program. Those clerics will build the foundation for a Taliban-based political party that would represent the interests of the Muslim clergy.
Therefore, against the background of obvious differences in the approach to the Afghan settlement, it is obvious that one of the parties in the peace negotiations must make concessions, otherwise discussions will come to a screeching halt.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”