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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Sluggish Afghanistan Peace Process

According to latest reports, U.S. and Taliban negotiators were expected to conclude an agreement covering the two issues in their last meeting in May 2019, but the discussions stalled over the Taliban's refusal to cease hostilities and participate in an intra-Afghan peace dialogue until Washington announced a troops draw down timetable. Afghan Taliban spokesperson Sohail Shaheen stated , “ I hope with the announcement of a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the process may gain momentum, paving the way for the Afghans to sit together and chart a road map for a future Islamic system and government." However, US Special envoy Khalilzad, in a statement ahead of the upcoming meeting with the Taliban, also vowed he would "try to bring the first two parts of our peace framework to closure," but he emphasized success would require other parties to show flexibility. Official sources in Kabul, meanwhile, have told VOA a two-day peace dialogue among Afghans, including government and Taliban representatives, is being arranged in Doha early next month. The sources said the meeting was scheduled for 7th July 2019 and would be an outcome of the upcoming U.S. _ Taliban negotiations.

On the other hand, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said earlier this week that IS was under strong military pressure in Afghanistan. And American forces and their Afghan partners routinely attack IS bases in the country while Taliban insurgents also regularly clash with loyalists of the Middle Eastern-based terrorist group. Contradicting that, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid alleged, “Their occupation is practically providing Daesh (IS) a ground in Afghanistan, and they are using its name and existence as an instrument." It is also being heard that U.S. interlocutors in continuing direct talks with Taliban envoys in Qatar have proposed to leave behind a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan after any peace agreement to fight IS; Taliban negotiators, however, have rejected the proposal, insisting their fighters could handle and defeat the Islamic State loyalists. Nevertheless, it reinforces the earlier fears that despite Trump’s announcement to abandon all endless wars and bring troops back home from Afghanistan under economic and political imperatives is less likely to be fully realised due to resistance from his own well entrenched military and intelligence establishment for whom achievement of an end state is more precious for pursuing unstated national interests than mere political expediency suiting White House with eyes set on winning 2020 presidential election. It appears that US is backing out from most important point agreed earlier regarding completely pulling out from Afghanistan, which is prone to either jeopardize the whole progress made so far or else delay the peace process indefinitely. The linkages of such a move by US Administration with ominous build up in the Gulf/ Middle East, threatening escalation with Iran and a subtle but meaningful response demonstrated through SCO Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 12-14 June 2019 underscores regional desire for peace as well as ability to stand together in case anymore aggression is unleashed by US/ Allies in the region.

In the context of big powers contest, American Asia Pacific Rebalancing Policy versus Chinese String of Pearls as well as BRI with Gawadar deep sea port/ CPEC being the biggest thorn in the eyes of America and allies brings Pakistan subjected to maximum allegations, coercion through IMF, World Bank, ADP and FATAF; besides, application of military pressure by stopping certain critical supplies, assistance and exchange programmes. Since 1979, USA is continuously in a state of war despite great blunders in Vietnam/ Cambodia. In his 1995 memoir, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam”, former U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara boiled down the American failure in Vietnam to one important factor: America’s inability to fully grasp the complexity of its adversaries and the environment in which they operated. Little has changed in the quarter-century since McNamara’s reflection. After 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, the United States is diving into a peace process based on false assumptions about its primary adversary, the Afghan Taliban. Namely, U.S. policymakers are assuming that the Taliban fight simply for political power, rather than for an ideology, that they operate through unified command and control, Taliban have come to the negotiation table as a result of war-weariness and they are willing to compromise. Whereas, the Taliban are talking because throughout they believed that if American had the watches, they had the time and having been emboldened by due political recognition by important regional and extra regional countries and with control of more than 50% Afghan territory, they can push out the dwindling American footprint. However, the biggest false assumptions fed to the American system by peace spoilers like Afghan self serving successive government, hand in glove with India are that Pakistan supports Afghan Taliban and hold the magic key to bring around the desired end state suitable for America and application of maximum diplomatic, military and economic pressure by stopping any assistance and leveraging through IMF, World bank, ADB and FATF etc can force Pakistan to yield. Conceivably, like unwisely investing on government in Saigon in South Vietnam, America may realise too late that by ignoring UN and SIGAR reports and by investing on Afghan government and betting on India as a strategic partner to deal with China and Pakistan was an exercise in futility.

The options before the United States today are familiar ones. Washington could escalate in hopes of winning the war; it could persist just as it has so far, inviting a prolonged stalemate; or it could put an end to a failed venture that has lasted 18 years and whose long-term costs may run to trillions of dollars. The choice seems obvious. The United States must abandon its fixation with abstractions, such as credibility or the fear of appearing weak, and act instead on the basis of common sense. The most enduring lesson of Vietnam—and Afghanistan—may be that there is no good way out of a bad war except to end it.

20th June 2019

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