In its recently published commentary, “Strange negotiations in an incongruous environment do not portend well for peace in Afghanistan”, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) comments on the bizarre and surreal milieu in which Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, has been holding rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha. The talks are ostensibly aimed at bringing in ‘peace’ in Afghanistan, but have been persisted with even as the Taliban launched attack after ferocious attack against US and Afghan troops and interests in Afghanistan. This has rendered the term “peace talks” a misnomer in this context, and is suggestive of the US’ acknowledgement of defeat and its alacrity and eagerness to cut its losses and get out of Afghanistan at the first available opportunity. The urge to do so appears to be so strong that despite repeatedly verbalizing the primacy of the interests of Afghanistan and its people, the US in fact appears to be possessed by a devil-may-care outlook towards the country that it entered into uninvited, and the government it set up there, which it now appears to be willing to abandon.
EFSAS explains how the gravity of the situation that the flippant attitude of the Trump administration towards Afghanistan has bred can be gauged from the fact that as many as nine former US Ambassadors and special representatives, each of whom has personally dealt with Afghanistan in the course of their careers, felt constrained enough to issue a joint statement on 3 September drawing attention to the perils of persisting with the Trump administration’s ill-conceived negotiating positions and future plans for Afghanistan. Their warning was issued after President Donald Trump and other US officials, including Khalilzad, publicly revealed nuggets on the state of play after the conclusion of the 9th round of negotiations with the Taliban.
The issues underlined by the nine Ambassadors are hugely relevant. While the US government’s intentions and goals at the talks with the Taliban are not majorly ambiguous, the same cannot be said of the Taliban. Other than their strong reservations on talking to the Afghan government, without which an intra-Afghan agreement cannot be reached, and their reported commitment made to the US to not let anti-US terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan, not much is forthcoming from the Taliban on how it visualizes a post-US withdrawal political structure in Afghanistan.
EFSAS further describes that the Taliban, which in the US books was a terrorist outfit at least till the talks began in 2018, and which is even today ceaselessly launching what the US would certainly term terrorist attacks against its forces in Afghanistan, is being raised by the US to the level where it is being given the authority to curb other terrorist outfits. It is another matter that the Taliban even today denies that Al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks in the US, and that Al Qaeda continues to operate alongside the Taliban and reportedly provides it with funds as well. As for the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), despite the Taliban’s hatred of the group, the fact of the matter is that there is more than one organization that works under the banner of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
EFSAS concludes in its commentary, that the US is not averse to allowing the Afghan government to be forced into negotiations with the Taliban with a gun pointed to its head. In its hurry to scurry out of Afghanistan, it also seems to have no qualms about potentially letting the South Asian region be engulfed by another phase of insecurity.