Peace with the Taliban will not be peaceful

This article was first published at Firstpost under the title: Peace with the Taliban will not be peaceful: US desperation to broker deal gives outfit more bargaining power.

The war in Afghanistan is off the rails and the United States is desperate to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to end its involvement in the 17-year-long conflict. The Taliban is more than happy to negotiate the terms of US withdrawal — but if and only if an accord is reached on its terms. Because if a so-called peace agreement can be reached, you can be sure it will be one that will not benefit the Afghan people, the US, or the region.

Hopes for a deal with the Taliban are high after US officials began to directly engage with representatives of the organisation earlier this year. Just last week, the Taliban attended a conference in Moscow hosted by Russia. While the US and Afghan governments did not send official delegations, representatives did attend.

At the conference, the Taliban laid out its demands for ‘peace’ in Afghanistan. Before talks could begin, the Taliban insisted its leaders must be removed from the United Nations Sanctions list, its members freed from prisons, its political office be formally recognised, and the end of ‘poisonous propaganda against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’

The last demand is telling. In its official statement at the Moscow conference, the Taliban referred to itself as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ — a staggering 61 times. This is the name of the Taliban’s government prior to the US invasion in 2001 after al Qaeda’s attack on 11 September.

The Taliban has insisted that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and not the Afghan government, is the true representative of the Afghan people. The ‘un-Islamic’ Afghan government is merely a “stooge” and “puppet” of the West, the Taliban says, and it refuses to negotiate or share power with it.

Once the Taliban’s pre-conditions for talks are met, it insists that in order for there to be peace, US and NATO forces must withdraw from the country. Then, the Taliban says, there can be peace.

While some may dismiss the Taliban’s demands as merely its hard line initial position that can be whittled down in negotiations, it has held firm on these demands for well over a decade. When the Obama administration attempted to negotiate peace with the Taliban during and after the Afghan surge, the Taliban did not budge on its demands. The Taliban was, however, able to extract concessions, such as the opening of its political office in Qatar and the release of five dangerous leaders who were held at Guantanamo, at zero cost. After extracting concessions, the Taliban walked away, leaving US efforts to cut a deal in shambles.

How did we get here? In August, 2017, President Donald Trump, in a nationally televised speech, announced his plan to adjust strategy in Afghanistan after the Taliban was making military gains. The US planned to increase support to the Afghan security forces and put more military pressure on the Taliban, in an effort to force it to the negotiating table, while also persuading Pakistan to end its support for the deadly insurgency, Trump said. Within six months of Trump’s announcement of the change in strategy, the US gave up on trying to deal a military blow to the Taliban and jumped right to negotiations.

The Taliban, sensing the West’s desperation to end the war, ramped up its military offensive and is bleeding Afghan forces. Taliban fighters briefly took control of parts of two provincial capitals in May and August, and have overrun numerous military bases and several districts. Casualties among Afghan security personnel are at an all time high. The failure of the demoralized Afghan security forces to defend the rural areas of Afghanistan, which are used by the Taliban to attack more populous parts of the country, has fueled the West’s desire to cut a deal with the Taliban. The west is desperate to end its involvement in the war, and the Taliban senses that.

So, under these conditions, is a deal with the Taliban possible? The answer is yes, but it won’t be a deal that the Afghan people, the US, NATO, and those in the region who oppose jihadists (read: not Pakistan) will like. It is certainly possible that the Taliban will make some concessions that will placate the West and the Afghan government. However, it is difficult to see how the Taliban can walk back demands that it has held firmly to for over a decade, such as the withdrawal of US forces or its refusal to enter into the Afghan government, while they also still hold increasing leverage in the battle. There has been little reason to concede ground.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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8 Comments

  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    We really only have a few bad choices in Afghanistan: 1) Preciptiously withdraw and support the GOA from afar; 2) Repeat what a couple of ODAs did in late 2001/2002 by essentially taking control of the Afghan security forces; 3) Be prepared to stay in Afghanistan for the next 50 years; or 4) Turn over the war to Erik Prince and his merry band of PMCs. To continue on our current azimuth is option 3 and it doesn’t seem like the best option. I would personally vote for option 2. The Afghans will fight but they are not very capable of being organized in the western military fashion. I’ve trained militaries from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt- none of them are very good at conventional military tactics but all were pretty decent at raids and ambushes so why we think they can be like Mike (Michael Jordan- the US military) is beyond me.

  • Brian L. says:

    Remembering our elation at the fall of Kabul in November 2001. This is so tragically sad. After gazillions of dollars and hundreds of lives, how are we unable to succeed at this? By comparison, it seems that the Soviets actually did better in the 1980s. When they pulled out, Najibullah’s government survived for years. Once US troops leave, does anyone think that the Kabul government could hold more than a few months?

  • Follower of Afghan Affairs says:

    Thank you for saying what is obvious to those who still understand logic – even in this post-factual erra. Facts matter to the innocent lives at stake.

  • Joe Hepperle says:

    Great article! I too can’t understand why they don’t see that we are their Masters. Has anyone tried to point out to them that “sovereign” countries that don’t do what we tell them — get the ‘Regime Change’ treatment? Maybe one of our high-ranking diplomats should point out to them the example of Saudi Arabia. Show the Taliban that, as long as they ‘play ball’ with us, they can head-chop all they want; they can Sharia-Law all they want; heck, they can even kill journalists all they want — as long as they play ball with us (i.e. USA is their true Master, and ultimately they must do what we tell them – that is how Democracy works!). Then show them how Russia DOESN’T get away with killing journalists precisely because Russia won’t do what we tell them. Show them our Mafia example where they can run their little ‘business’ (Country) as long as they acknowledge that we (USA) run the WHOLE ‘East side’. Let me finish by giving a shout-out to my soon-to-be-friends in the CIA, NSA, DIA, and FBI who are reading this. And, as a former Marine, I always wanted to be stationed at Guantanamo, but not in the way they will probably want me ‘stationed’ there.

  • Right! Because the reason for the continuing war of some 17 years has to do with the invasion and occupation of their country by a foreign non-Muslim military force that took out their government and brought to power a corrupt (rated as one of the most corrupt governments in the world) government made up of mostly the country’s minority groups ignoring the traditional role of the Pashtuns (40% of the population) who had established Afghanistan as a country and mostly ruled it since the 1740s (?). A Taliban (Pashtun) government would e acceptable to that portion of the country at least who mostly consider the present government as illigimate and corrupt and not supportive of the people.

  • angel234 says:

    It is in the interests of all that a peace deal takes place. The role of Iran is also questionable recently as it has been supplying arms and ammo to the taliban in the Farah province. What do you think their role in arming the talibs Bill?

  • Jack P says:

    Excellent!!! Right on the money!

  • Felix Gregorian says:

    The strategy of suggesting; there is no good strategy for the US, NATO, and those Eegional interested in defeating Taliban is totally false.
    Of course there is.
    How so?
    The US, Coalition Partners, NATO Allies, Gov Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have the means, capabilities, will, and knowledge to completely decimate and effectively wipe out the Taliban, we know there tools, methods, and principles of operations. All based on opiade trade, and killing locals to scare and align them w Taliban influence.
    This is not new, the West could defeat this. The competing hypothesis to solve this equation must only be prioritized. And furthermore illiminate the outside characters, like Saudi money and Pakistani Taliban hands from this game.
    Palistan might be thd ones via PT (Pakistan Taliban) offer manpower, and KSA takes on the financing role.

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