US President Donald Trump made his maiden visit to Afghanistan on Thursday under a cloak of secrecy to celebrate thanksgiving with US troops stationed at the Bagram Airfield where he announced that he had reopened talks with Taliban.
Less than three months ago in September, an end to 18-year-old US war in Afghanistan had seemed imminent after Trump invited the Taliban to Camp David to shake hands on an agreement for peace. But the meeting was called off in an abrupt announcement by Trump, who poured water on the entire process after a Taliban-led terror attack killed 11 people including a US soldier.
But despite public overtures of anger at the Taliban, backdoor diplomacy continued. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also allegedly met with the Taliban leadership in Islamabad last month.
Pakistan’s foreign office, although shied away from officially announcing that the two sides had met, said Khalilzad’s “visit would provide the opportunity to review the progress made under US-Taliban peace talks so far, and discuss the possibilities of resuming the paused political settlement process in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban were also careful in their criticism of Trump after he called off talks on Sept 7 which was seen by observers as the evidence that the group was still interested in a peace deal with the US.
On the other hand, the American diplomats continued their work to rebuild trust by allowing prisoner swaps. On Nov 19, three Taliban prisoners were freed after two western teachers were safely handed over by the insurgent group into the custody of American forces.
Although Trump’s announcement on Thursday did not provide any details on how the talks would resume, he did claim that the Taliban had agreed to a ceasefire.
While speaking to the troops, where he was flanked by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Trump said the Taliban “wants to make a deal very badly,” but added in a nonchalant way that, “if they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. That’s fine.”
The Taliban, however, did not issue any statement to verify Trump’s claims. The Afghan government has long sought a ceasefire from Taliban but the insurgent group refused to agree to it in the past.
On the other hand, the Afghan Peace Process cannot become successful until Afghanistan announces final results of the presidential elections held in September.
For any long-term solution to the war in Afghanistan, the US, Taliban, Afghan government and regional neighbors must all be on the same page.