Millennium Post

Of peace talks and terror

After a Taliban attack in Kabul last week which killed 12 people, including a US soldier, US President Donald Trump called off peace talks and secret meetings and also cancelled the US-Taliban negotiations in Qatar. The stately protest of the act of terror was in expression of disagreement to the violence recently perpetrated. Taliban, on the other hand, has condemned President Trump's abrupt move to suspend the ongoing peace talks with the group to close the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan, dubbing this gesture as an "anti-peace move". The Taliban are very adamant on their assertion against the US that this move will bring more harm upon Washington and that US will end up more losses. Following the suspension of talks, the Taliban expressed through a series of tweets that "Our struggle for the past 18 years ... will continue until the foreign occupation is finished and the Afghans are given a chance to live by their own choice". Matters were progressing steadily before the recent bombing that claimed innocent lives, the Doha talks were a positive development with fruitful discussions going towards signing the agreement. September 23 was decided as the inaugural day of another round of inter-Afghan dialogue hoping that a deal with the US would be reached by then. With the sudden turn of events between the US and Taliban, the government of Afghanistan issued a statement that real peace would be possible only if he Taliban stopped launching attacks and held direct talks with the government. The Afghan President's spokesperson, Sediq Sediqqi, stated that a direct negotiation with the group was a long-awaited wish and that they "strongly believe in a process that can be led and owned by the Afghan government and Afghan people". This triangular picture of the Afghanistan peace process points to the fact that however defunct or incapacitated, a civilian government has no substitute and that for any step in the direction of peace for common good and general wellbeing, the civilian government is an indispensible entity. The Taliban, however, does not recognise the Afghan government calling it a "puppet regime" and refuses to engage with it. For the US to pull out of the situation, a willing party wielding some amount of power has to be necessarily involved, but as matters stand in Afghanistan, between the weakened civilian government and the radical Taliban, it is Taliban with which the peace talks are executed as choosing the Afghan government for this purpose would be fraught with impediments owing to the Taliban. An all-out withdrawal of the USA from the war-ravaged Afghanistan would create a vacuum in the country giving space for greater terror-like disorder to thrive. The USA, for now, has been very firm in its stance against Taliban and had gone on to diplomatically register its disagreement by recalling its special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to Washington to determine the path forward. Certainly, this is a startling move because the suspension of talks for peace would that the status of war in Afghanistan will prolong further. This, however, does not indicate that talks are abandoned altogether but that USA is more insistent on its ways. Talks and terror cannot go together, as Indians often say. But considering the eccentric Donald Trump, he is known to be walking away from negotiations, as both the US President and as a business tycoon, as a move for getting a better or stronger negotiating position.

The pertinent question now is: who needs a peace deal more at this point, Afghanistan or the USA? Of course, it is Afghanistan but the USA with its prolonged situation in Afghanistan also perpetuates the status of the war-torn country. It was expected that the Taliban would be in a greater need for a peace deal but the very contrary seems to have been proved with the recent bombing in Kabul. It was only last week that the US and Taliban negotiators struck a draft deal that could have resulted in the withdrawal of troops from America's longest war so far. There are at present 14,000 US forces and thousands of other NATO troops in Afghanistan, 18 years after its invasion by a US-led coalition following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre. Trump's characteristic style of negotiations, however, are unlike a typical diplomatic exchange centred on statecraft, his approach tends to be more in a manner of business transactions. As per The Guardian, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that "Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase" with reference to Trumps move on the peace talks. A damage to credibility has been the recurring point of Taliban given Trump's walk-out on peace talks. The Doha rounds were seen as a silver lining in the nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan. For long, people were afraid the US would sign a cease-fire but the Taliban would continue their war against the Afghan government and people. Nine rounds of discussions between the militant group and the US had already taken place in Doha, Qatar, and according to BBC, on September 3, a top American negotiator had claimed that a peace agreement had been reached "in principle". Under the proposed deal, Washington had said it would withdraw 5,400 soldiers in 20 weeks in exchange for the militant group's guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used as its base for terrorism. Afghanistan has borne the brunt of several terror attacks in the past few months amid US peace talks with the Taliban. The terror group wants all American and NATO troops to leave the country and is at its strongest now since the US took control over large parts of the country following the 9/11 attack. As far as peace in Afghanistan goes, it is only elusive. And there is a necessity for a peace deal to work out effectively for Afghanistan for the stability in the South Asian region. Terror activities that go on unabated in Pakistan receive a considerable cover-up with the situation perpetuated in Afghanistan. India can't not be concerned at this.

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