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How to negotiate with terrorists

  • Published at 12:02 am September 29th, 2019
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It is hoped that any commitment made by Taliban negotiators is upheld

nstability and the search for peace in Afghanistan continue to attract world attention among international geo-strategists. This time around, the US was hoping that matters would be brought to a successful compromise through a deal on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The US-backed Afghan government that took over in 2004, discovered to its surprise that the Taliban still had a lot of support in areas around the Pakistani border, and were generating hundreds of millions of dollars a year from illegal drug trade, mining, and taxes imposed on transportation vehicles carrying goods through their controlled territory.

At the same time, the Taliban has kept world attention on them as the alternative in Afghanistan through suicide attacks on not only members of the Afghan armed forces and foreign troops but also without hesitation on the civilian population. 

It would be worthwhile to refer to some of the casualty figures that have surfaced in recent times. This has encouraged the US to start negotiations with the Taliban.

It’s difficult to say how many Afghan troops have died over the last five years but in January 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani mentioned that 45,000 members of the security forces had been killed since 2014. 

All these factors have directly and indirectly contributed to the US initiating dialog with the Taliban in Qatar. This effort to reduce US troops numbers in Afghanistan has also been influenced by the fact that the next presidential election is coming up in November 2020.

US President Donald Trump made his own efforts consistent with his future electoral priorities, but subsequently called off peace negotiations with the Taliban that sought to end America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan. In response, the Taliban have stated that Americans will “lose the most” for cancelling. 

The office of Afghan president has, however, noted that real peace would only be possible when the Taliban agree to a ceasefire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government. 

It may be remembered that this US effort to come to an understanding with the Taliban in Doha was the result of nine rounds of talks between the representatives of the two sides. It also needs to be mentioned that nearly a year of painstaking negotiations took place but this had excluded any representation from the Afghan government in Kabul -- who are referred to by the Taliban as “American puppets.”

US negotiator Khalilzad had earlier indicated that based on the draft agreement, the US would pull out 5,400 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan within 135 days so long as the Taliban met conditions set out in the agreement. The US currently has about 14,000 service members in Afghanistan, alongside NATO troops, helping to train and advise Afghan troops and conducting counter-terrorism operations. 

In return, the Taliban would guarantee that Afghanistan would never again be used as a base for terrorism by them or their allies.

This latest act of violence only underlined fears that the US-Taliban agreement would not end the daily fighting in Afghanistan and its toll on civilians.

In this context, he has also gone on record that “pulling out of the peace process before the signing of the agreement shows the US’s lack of maturity and experience.” He also said that the Taliban and the Afghan government had agreed to talks on September 23 after reaching an agreement with the US. 

The Afghan government has not confirmed this fact.

On the other hand, Afghan leaders have accused the US of bestowing legitimacy on the Taliban, which has only emboldened them. Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for President Ghani has, however, reiterated the Afghan government’s long-standing wish for direct negotiation with the group. 

However, the future scenario will now be more complex after the sudden departure of National Security Adviser Bolton from the Trump Administration.

One can also only hope that in the coming days, any commitment made by Taliban negotiators with the US or with the Afghan government will be upheld by Taliban commanders in the field.

That is the crucial element. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]