AS US-Afghanistan deal making approaches the
finish, “misgivings have grown among some
Trump Administration officials and lawmakers that it will erode the United States’ ability to thwart attacks from there”, Reuters reported on August 31. To alley these apprehensions, President Donald Trump said he plans to keep 8,600 troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. “We’re going down to 8,600 and then we make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump told Fox News Radio repeating that the US “could win that war so fast, if I wanted to kill 10 million people … which I don’t.” General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters: “I’m not using the withdraw word right now.” “It’s our judgment that the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence” in the country today. He said it’s too early to talk about a full American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman has said that they’re close to a final agreement. But even as the talks go on, there are persistent attacks by the Taliban across Afghanistan, and an affiliate of Daesh has taken hold in the country and has been expanding its base. Even if the US is able to close a deal, it will remain for the Afghan government to negotiate its own peace agreement with the Taliban. Part of those talks will be determining a role for the Taliban in governing the country. At the end of the ninth round of talks, the US and the Taliban were reported ‘close’ to reaching an agreement. A meeting of Taliban leadership has reviewed the draft agreement. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted: “All the Shura (consultation) members have received the draft and they are reading it carefully, yet no go-ahead signal has been given to the Taliban negotiating team in Doha,” the Taliban official said.
Earlier, President Donald Trump had confirmed that US officials were discussing withdrawal plans with both the Taliban and Afghanistan government officials. Trump had pledged to end the military mission in Afghanistan during his presidential campaign. Trump has made it clear that the United States “cannot allow Afghanistan to be made a laboratory for terrorism”. That does seem to be the Harvard University of terrorism. “We’ll always have intelligence and we’ll always have someone there,” Trump said during an unscheduled press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on 20 August.
And back in Kabul, in what became the deadliest attack in Afghanistan this year, a suicide-bomb blast killed at least 63 and injured over 180 at a wedding party in Kabul on 17 August. This time Daesh boys did it. Afghan government vowed to crush Daesh havens as Afghans mourned the dead people, including harmless women and innocent children. Attack came at a difficult and complicated time for the country, keeping in view the US-Taliban peace talks. This Daesh attack does not only highlight the US failure in Afghanistan in terms of failing to defeat the Taliban, but also in terms of allowing other terrorist and militant groups such as Daesh to flourish in the country. Recent spate of terror attacks in Afghanistan has raised concerns and fears over the future security landscape of the country. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in his report, had also warned that the “Afghan government had weak oversight of security force units and their commanders in peripheral areas of Afghanistan”. In his recent report to the UNSG Antonio Guterres had said that “the lull in IS-directed international attacks “may be temporary” and that “Afghanistan remained the best-established conflict zone among those attracting foreign extremist fighters”.
According to Leo Shane III, Trump signalled that his preference would be a full withdrawal of American [military] personnel from the country, but “it’s a dangerous place, and we have to keep an eye on it.” However, he termed open-ended US military mission there “ridiculous”. “We’re not really fighting, we’re more of a police force … and we’re not supposed to be a police force,” Trump said. Jim Golby in his August 17 analysis for The Atlantic captioned: “It Matters If Americans Call Afghanistan a Defeat”, aptly commented: “The public’s judgment about whether the United States won or lost the war will affect civilian-military relations for years to come”. A negotiated peace normally involves concessions by both sides, and can be characterized in multiple ways. A “stabbed in the back” narrative is a common cultural response among militaries that have failed to achieve their wartime goals.
Liz Cheney in her Gulf News opinion piece, captioned “Why Trump should reject the Afghan deal” recommends that: “The group [Taliban] has conducted daily attacks resulting in the death of Afghan civilians, US soldiers and our allies”. Reuters reported on 26 August that “US negotiators have been pressing the Taliban to agree to peace talks with the Kabul government and to a ceasefire, but a senior Taliban official said that would not happen”. However, preparations are being made for talks between the rival Afghan sides in Norway. A Taliban official said. Expected deal envisages that US forces will stop attacking the Taliban and the militants would end their fight against the US troops. And the United States would also cease supporting the Afghan government. However, special envoy has vowed to defend the Afghan forces even after the deal. The signals emanating from various quarters are indeed confusing. The US may have a plan up in the sleeve to just put up a token façade of withdrawal while retaining or even enhancing the military capability. If this be the case then the US is certainly grossly under estimating the acumen of Taliban.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.