GP Insights # 225, 19 January 2020
In the news
The Taliban presented the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, with a proposal to reduce violence and restart long-stalled peace talks when negotiators met in Doha, Qatar. A Taliban official was reported saying that "the proposal of reduction in violence on the negotiating table was in response to US demands." The new direction in the peace talks was confirmed by a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official who was affirmative that the proposal was handed over to Zalmay Khalilzad. "We have agreed to scale down military operations in days leading up to the signing of the peace agreement with the United States," Taliban chief spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen said. "The purpose (of scaling down) is to provide a safe environment to foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan," he further said.
American and Taliban negotiations that have been restarted for the peace negotiations have now started on a positive note. The talks promised progress, with the Taliban willing to show their readiness to accept the demand for reduction in violence. Associated Press reported that Taliban officials gave the US envoy in the talks "a document outlining their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would last between seven and ten days." Previously, the US demand for reduction in violence had held up the resumption of formal peace talks for months.
Issues at large
The fundamental objective of the US efforts in Afghanistan is "preventing any further attacks on the United States by terrorists enjoying haven or support in Afghanistan."
When the US began official peace talks with the Afghan Taliban for the first time in Doha, Qatar in February 2019, there was great optimism that a new chapter in the 18-year conflict between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and NATO forces might be beginning. Both the US and the Taliban were just days away from signing a peace deal in September 2019 when the nearly year-long diplomatic effort was called off by President Trump in a surprise tweet. This was based on the Taliban attack that killed a US service member.
Ever since, the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, has been trying to restart negotiations, first by facilitating a prisoner exchange and now by demanding a reduction in violence. Talks resumed in November 2019 after an unannounced visit by Trump to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving. But they were paused in December after a Taliban attack on a highly fortified US base.
A peace deal with the Taliban would pave the way not only for Afghanistan's political order, but also international involvement, and the regional security architecture. It would also pave the way for one of the key campaign promises that President Trump wants to keep, the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan. But reducing the troop level will also increase pressure on the Afghan government's forces, which continue to struggle to carry out operations without close US support.
The Taliban's readiness to reduce violence can lead to a deal that includes a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in return for a Taliban pledge that Afghan soil will not be used by international terrorist groups to launch attacks against the US and its allies. The deal can also lead to talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, who has been so far excluded in the talks as well as other political factions to negotiate future power-sharing. If the American side decides to accept the offer, it would amount to the most significant development in the year-long negotiations.