As it stands, American and Taliban officials are coming closer to an agreement concerning peace and a withdrawal of American troops. While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has not been directly involved in talks because insurgent groups see him as American puppet, he has been quite vocal about his government’s stipulations. Ghani has also criticized his government’s lack of representation at the table saying it could lead to events similar to what followed after the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. As a result, Ghani said in a televised press conference on Monday that an agreement must respect the “national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan.”
Currently, the framework of the agreement rests on two key pillars: that insurgent groups guarantee Afghan territory not be used for terrorism or for the harming of American interests and that the United States withdraw its troops. President Ghani responded saying, that before troop withdrawals are negotiated a ceasefire must be in order and domestic affairs must be discussed. There are those in Afghanistan who are staunchly opposed to these negotiations like Hafiz Mansour who say, “Trump can decide to pull out troops at any moment, and the U.S. is looking for a face-saving approach to do it. But our troops do not have the capacity to defend the country. We will need foreign help for years to come.”. Nothing is set in stone yet, but as it stands, the White House does seem adamant about their eventual exit from Afghanistan, sooner than later.
U.S. inches closer to deal with Taliban that could lead to American troop pullout
KABUL — U.S. and Taliban officials have inched closer to an agreement that could meet a key Taliban demand for U.S. troop withdrawals, prompting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to call on the insurgents Monday to “begin serious talks” with his government and reach a “speedy peace.”
Ghani’s government has been excluded from the talks until now because the insurgents view it as an American puppet. But Ghani called U.S.-Taliban talks “part of our peace” and warned that a deal without Afghan involvement could lead to the kind of “catastrophic” civil strife that followed the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.
During six days of talks in Qatar last week, Taliban and U.S. representatives outlined but did not formally agree on a broad plan in which U.S. troops would leave the country in exchange for the insurgents pledging to ensure that Afghan territory would not be used by them or other Islamist militant groups to harm American interests.
U.S. talks with the Taliban are aimed at ending more than 17 years of American involvement in Afghanistan’s four decades of almost continuous warfare.
Ghani, in a televised speech from his palace Monday afternoon, assured Afghans that he would accept no deal that undermines their rights and the nation’s unity. He spoke after meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace, about progress in Qatar.
Khalilzad told the New York Times on Monday that U.S. and Taliban officials have agreed in principle on two key elements of an eventual deal — that the insurgents would guarantee that Afghan territory would not be used as a platform for terrorism and that U.S. troops would ultimately withdraw in return for further concessions. But he said a U.S. troop pullout still hinges on the Taliban’s acceptance of a cease-fire and direct talks with Kabul on domestic issues as part of a full-fledged peace accord.
Ghani, who met with Khalilzad late Sunday in Kabul, told Afghans in his speech Monday that no agreements would be concluded without the government’s full participation.
“Our commitment is to provide peace and to prevent any possible disaster,” Ghani said. “There are values that are not disputable, such as national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He called on the Taliban to “accept the call of the people” and begin “serious talks” with his government, despite the insurgents’ renewed insistence on no direct talks until an agreement is reached on the “withdrawal of foreign forces” from Afghanistan.
Khalilzad, President Trump’s special envoy for Afghan peace, flew to Kabul on Sunday from Doha, the Qatari capital, to report on his talks with Taliban representatives.
Khalilzad said Saturday in a series of tweets that the latest talks had been “more productive” than in the past and had made “significant progress on vital issues,” but he said there were still “a number of issues to work out.” He said that “nothing is agreed until every thing is agreed, and every thing must include intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.”
Taliban officials, for their part, issued a statement late Saturday saying that progress had been made but that further talks were needed to deal with “unsolved matters.” The statement added pointedly that Taliban policy was made “very clear” during the talks: “Until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible.”
In a tweet Monday, Khalilzad said he had briefed Ghani on the “progress we have made” in Doha. “Peace is America’s highest priority in Afghanistan, a goal we believe all Afghans share,” he added. Talks between the two sides are expected to resume next month.
But a statement from Ghani’s office Monday said Khalilzad also told the president that “no kind of discussion” was held in Doha about the “structure of the future establishment” in Afghanistan, a reference to the Taliban’s demands for a future role in politics and government.
The statement also said Khalilzad told Ghani that his mission was to “facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue” and that any pullout of foreign troops would be conducted “in coordination” with the Afghan government.
The issue of Afghan inclusion in the peace process is especially sensitive for Ghani, who is seeking reelection in a vote slated for July. He has opposed suggestions that an interim government be formed to implement a peace plan, and he has expressed concern that a hasty U.S.-Taliban deal could come at the expense of Afghan democracy and freedoms.
In his televised speech, Ghani recalled the bloodshed that erupted in 1992 after Islamist Afghan militias that had fought the Soviets refused to negotiate under United Nations auspices with Kabul’s Moscow-backed government, leading to a devastating civil war.
“I know the probable risks and threats after a peace agreement,” Ghani said. “We are committed to restore peace and prevent possible catastrophe and disintegration.”
Several Afghan critics on Monday derided Ghani’s assertion that his government would be consulted on U.S. troop pullout plans. They noted that President Trump has already said he wants to withdraw thousands of troops and that Khalilzad has been under White House pressure to arrange a deal with the Taliban as fast as possible.
“America does not need our advice or consultation for leaving. It came here for its own interests, and it will leave for its own interests,” said Hafiz Mansour, an opposition legislator. “Trump can decide to pull out troops at any moment, and the U.S. is looking for a face-saving approach to do it. But our troops do not have the capacity to defend the country. We will need foreign help for years to come.”
Ghani has worked closely with U.S. military officials here since taking office, strongly endorsing a buildup in U.S. training and advising of Afghan forces over the past two years. At an international economic conference last week in Davos, Switzerland, Ghani declared that 45,000 Afghan security forces had died since he took office in 2014, a much higher toll than previously reported.
Source: The Washington Post, Pamela Constable, Jan. 28, 2019. Photo credit to Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.