Taliban proposal for Afghan peace: Any listeners?

Iqbal Khan
WHILE proving their credibility as a combative force to recon with in Afghan conflict through their unrelenting attacks, the Taliban have now released a letter urging the “American people” to press their government to withdraw from Afghanistan, reminding them that the Afghan war is the longest conflict in which they have been embroiled — and at a cost of “trillions of dollars.” Though this is not the first peace overture by the Taliban, but it is an unexpected move at a time of increasing bloodshed in Afghanistan, resulting in unprecedented combatant and civilian casualties. Disappointed with President Donald Trump, Taliban have decided to approach a larger constituency. The communique is addressed to “the American people, officials of independent non-governmental organizations and the peace-loving Congressmen.” Letter may not have significant impact of current policy makers, yet, the American societal pressure, of the magnitude anti-Vietnam war stands a chance of overcoming the nexus of beneficiaries of current Afghan turmoil.
Taliban leadership has been calling upon the US and Afghan governments to come to peace talks and that the US should announce a timeframe for the withdrawal of the troops and begin talks with the Taliban, recognise the Taliban office, and focus on the political process instead of the war strategy. In an attempt to persuade the US public about the futility of Afghan war—which is unlikely to throw up a clear winner— the letter aptly refers to the “3,546 American and foreign soldiers” killed, an “87% rise” in heroin production in 2017, and the assessment from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction(SIGAR) that Taliban control over Afghan territory has increased significantly. The statement refers to the “international community” now “backing our justified resistance”.
Such arguments have an ear in Washington. Even if ignored by the US policymakers, the Taliban’s public plea showcases an effective evolution in their thought process. From the status of terrorists, of yester years, they have successfully transformed into the status of legitimate warring “belligerents”. Released by the Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, letter comes amid dismal conditions for the US and Afghan forces on the battlefield. President Trump has recently said “there’s ‘no talking to Taliban’ in wake of recent attacks in Afghanistan”. Yet, the Taliban letter restates their longstanding offer of direct talks with Washington, which the United States has repeatedly refused, saying peace negotiations should be between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Despite informal and regular contact between the Taliban and senior Afghan officials, there are no prospects of structured peace talks leading towards an end to hostilities.
Taliban’s latest offer promises a more inclusive regime, education and rights for all, including women. However, Taliban rule out power-sharing, saying they have the right to form a government. “Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue,” the letter said. “America must end her occupation and must accept all our legitimate rights, including the right to form a government consistent with the beliefs of our people.” Taliban have not shown any flexibility for talks with the Afghan government, which they consider as a powerless American proxy. Taliban insist that they are ready for talks with the US to discuss with them “timing” for the withdrawal of the foreign troops.
Letter highlights rampant corruption in Afghan government, proliferation of multi-billion-dollar narcotics industry. America blames that, Taliban make millions of dollars in taxes and tolls, charging those dealing in the drugs to move their illicit cargo to market. Right under the American nose, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw material used to make heroin. The letter criticizes President Donald Trump’s strategy announced last August that called for America led occupation military force to bring compliant component of Taliban to the negotiation table. “If the policy of using force is exercised for a 100 more year and 100 new strategies are adopted, the outcome of all of these will be the same as you have observed over the last six months,” the letter said. Taliban have pressed the world community to ask the United States and its Western allies to leave Afghanistan instead of asking them to stop their armed struggle. “The world community should put pressure on the US to quit our country and end its brutality. War has been imposed on us. The US wants to continue the war,” the Taliban spokesman said.
At a time when Pakistan’s relations with both the United States and Afghanistan are tense, it has offered an olive branch to Washington and Kabul, seeking a ‘collaborative and persistent approach’ to deal with regional security challenges. The offer was made by the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in to Kabul for a daylong trip on February 13 to attended a security meeting. In his address, General Qamar reiterated that the path to regional peace and stability passes through Afghanistan. “Regions develop as a whole, not individual countries”. He said collaborative approach and persistence is the answer to all challenges, for which Pakistan is ready to play its part. Responding to the oft repeated US and Afghan allegations of providing terrorist save havens, the army chief insisted that Pakistan had eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries from its soil. He also assured that Pakistani territory was not allowed to be used against any other country, adding that Pakistan expected the same in reciprocity.
Pakistan has denied any links to the spate of attacks in the Afghan capital, and has offered joint investigations. Pakistan has repeatedly expressed its resolve for peace and security in Afghanistan. It has already proposed Afghan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, encompassing engagement on critical issues. After decades of sufferings, the Afghan people deserve lasting peace, but this will remain elusive until the US demonstrates its intent of meaningfully engaging with Taliban, and their letter offers an opportunity.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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