Taliban talking from position of strength

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NEWS & VIEWS

Mohammad Jamil

THERE is consensus among Afghan watchers and analysts that the Taliban’s resolute resistance to foreign occupation has paid dividends and it is now talking to the US from the position of strength. Commenting on the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, renowned foreign policy author Ahmed Rashid also said the Taliban were talking from a position of strength as they controlled more territory than the Afghan Government. On concluding day of Adab Festival held at the Governor House in Karachi, he said that the Taliban realized that Trump was determined to pull out and this was his promise to his own voter base in the US. He added, “Of course, you can argue that this is ridiculous because you need interaction with your allies and trading partners. So I think the whole American ideology has shifted dramatically by Trump”.
In fact, there were political differences in the Unity Government from the day one, as President Ashraf Ghani was not willing to accommodate Abdullah Abdullah of former Northern Alliance. The US had then intervened and told President Ghani that if he did not induct Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the matter would have to be referred for audit to verify the result of the presidential election, and he might lose presidential slot. Later also, the turmoil continued; Parliament impeached seven ministers including the Foreign Minister. Besides earlier division between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the turf war had started between President Ghani and the first Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum. In an 11 August 2016 speech in Kabul, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah had criticized President Ashraf Ghani for taking unilateral decisions on various issues including the appointment of ministers.
He had accused President Ashraf Ghani of not implementing the power-sharing arrangement, his failure to hold a Loya Jirga and amending the Constitution to create the position of prime minister. The deadline for implementation of political agreement brokered by Secretary Kerry that formed the coalition government was 21 September, but nothing was done in this regard. President Ashraf Ghani felt that with the amendment of the Constitution, he would become only a figure head of the government. The Taliban leadership is not willing to talk to the Afghan government and is poised to talk to the former Northern Alliance elements using disunity of the Unity Government to achieve its objectives. Recently, Taliban’s chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said the Taliban did not recognize the government and expected the Afghan Army to be disbanded after a peace deal.
In his second State of Union Address, US President Donald Trump said that he accelerated negotiations with the Taliban and other groups to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan, adding that if the process continued, the United States would be able to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and focus on counter-terrorism efforts. The main thrust of the foreign policy agenda that Trump highlighted in his speech was his pledge to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and Syria. However, Afghan President insists on following Afghan constitution, but the Taliban want to change the current Afghan constitution, as they consider it invalid because it was imported from the West. “The sovereignty and establishment of an Islamic system conforming to our religious and Afghan values is our legal right,” said Stanekzai in the meeting at Moscow. However, the Taliban leadership is likely to address the concerns of the Opposition.
President Ghani should remember what Long War Journal (LWJ), a component of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD) think-tank, had reported in September 2017: “Overall, LWJ has determined that 45 per cent of Afghanistan’s districts are controlled or contested by the Taliban. LWJ assessment aligns closely with those of both the US military and the Taliban itself. The Taliban claims to control or contest 50 percent of the country’s 407 districts. The US military puts the estimate at 40 percent, which LWJ says is flawed”. A BBC study and months of research across the country showed that the Taliban now control or threaten much more territory than when foreign combat troops left in 2014. The Afghan government has played down the report, saying it controls most areas. But the US forces are witness to the situation on the ground, and President Trump has realized that dialogue with the Taliban leadership is the way for an honorable exit.
Recently, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib in a tweet stated, “As a sovereign country, no other country or individual has the right or the authority to discuss new governance formulae or structure for Afghanistan, including political dispensation, which violate the Afghan Constitution.” However, he must realize that the only path to peace in Afghanistan is reconciliation and giving due share to the Taliban that represent more than 50 per cent of the population. Anyhow, the Constitution has to be amended before the next presidential elections. Secondly, there is need to have a balanced Afghan National Army, which is composed of 45 per cent Tajiks, 20 per cent Hazaras and 10 per cent Uzbeks, but only 25 per cent Pashtuns. The Taliban leadership would not accept such ethno-tribal army setup. Of course, Afghan forces are no match with the Taliban fighters who according to the BBC latest report have either control or influence in 70 per cent of Afghanistan.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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