What 2020 Holds For US-Taliban Peace Talks
A few months ago, peace between the Taliban and the US seemed unjust but conceivable. However, after continuous terror attacks, President Trump recanted from his position and ceased the negotiations. Nonetheless, an agreement is likely for the upcoming year.
Since 2001, the US has been present in Afghanistan after an operation that ousted the Taliban regime that had terrorized the country. Today, the radical Islamists have almost regained its strength pre 9/11. In the past two weeks alone, at least 94 government-led forces and 36 civilians have been killed by the Taliban.
The US has been trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the Taliban since summer 2018. After President Trump had ceased the negotiations, the hopes for an agreement decreased drastically. Until two weeks ago, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met Taliban representatives again to advance a deal.
However, if the negotiations were indeed to resume, they would be facilitated at a politically explosive time. Presidential elections were held in the country at the end of September. Almost three months later, the election commission has now stated that Ashraf Ghani is ahead with 50.6 percent of the vote. However, the final election result has still not been published. Most importantly, and this illustrates the circumstances in the country, the new President will not have any significant influence on the negotiations, as the Taliban see the government as a western puppet and thus have made it a condition that it cannot participate in the negotiations with the US.
The fact that the self-proclaimed dealmaker himself, President Donald Trump, has agreed to a stipulation as outrageous as this indicates how powerful the Taliban have become again. It is estimated that the Taliban have regained control of between 50-70 percent of the country.
However, the US’ proclivity to facilitate a deal is also based on one only truth: Donald Trump’s promise to bring home the troops. Thus, if an agreement could be reached prior to the 2020 election, it would undoubtedly be found in Trump’s reelection campaign commercials. The fact that the deal is being made with repugnant terrorists, who continue to commit unspeakable crimes is hardly noteworthy at this stage. The latter eludes to the fact that the Taliban possess the leverage in these negotiations, as the whole world is acutely cognizant of the circumstances mentioned above.
However, even for Trump, it would be a reach to spin an immediate withdrawal without any Taliban concessions as a win. Thus, Khalilzad is therefore planning, as a first step, to persuade the Taliban to reduce violence in the country. It is noteworthy that the Taliban have at least avoided major attacks in city centers with many civilians in recent months, which can be interpreted as a signal to the US, even though it merely amplifies the barbarism the US has been facing.
Moreover, the Taliban must promise not to protect terrorist groups that threaten the international community, such as Al Qaeda, once did. The deal also provides for, and this is where it becomes particularly sensitive that the Taliban and central government in Kabul will share power over the country in the future. In view of the current situation, it is hard to imagine how this could work in practice.
In an idealistic world, such a deal would not be worth the paper it is written on. In geopolitics, however, national interests must override morality at times. Thus, the stipulations mentioned above would result in a peace treaty that can secure the ultimate withdrawal of US troops.
Prior to the end of negotiations in September, the roadmap stipulated that after the peace treaty was signed, the Afghan government and the Taliban should conduct negotiations in Afghanistan as a second step. For this, both parties should officially meet in Norway. Then as now, it is difficult to predict what such an agreement could look like.
The situation in Afghanistan remains disastrous. One the one hand, the US should not attempt to keep the peace in a region that is unable ever to become stable and secure. However, a peace agreement with mass-murdering terrorists is a high price to pay for a nation that rightfully prides itself to have brought liberty to many places in the world.