September 15, 2019

After the ninth round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban ended in Doha, both sides seemed optimistic about the progress. The top US peace negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, flew to...

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After the ninth round of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban ended in Doha, both sides seemed optimistic about the progress. The top US peace negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, flew to Kabul to brief the Afghan government leaders about the outcome.

Two days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, US President Donald Trump declared the peace talks as dead. “They (peace talks) are dead – they are dead. As far as I’m concerned, they are dead.” He tweeted this after the death of a US soldier and eleven others in a suicide bomb blast.

Taliban attacks on government-controlled cities and armed forces should have been no surprise for the Americans. The Taliban invariably demonstrated this strategy to prove their hold over a large part of the country and also to remind the Americans not to undermine their prowess to resist foreign occupation. As a reminder to 9/11, Taliban exploded a rocket near the US embassy in Kabul when the clock struck midnight on September 11.

We need to ask two main questions. First, which of the two sides is desperate for the hostilities to end enabling it to extricate itself out of the blackhole of Afghanistan? Second, on whose side is the most important factor – time? The obvious answer suits the Taliban hence they want peace at their own terms. One of the conditions for peace that the Taliban abhor is talking to President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Their view would be: how can they agree to negotiate with their arch rival against whom they fought for many years and whom they consider an American proxy?

While the Taliban can afford to go easy on the peace talks, the Americans show dire urgency for peace to come into effect, as stated by the 'New York Times' on September 9. “A plan to send home as many as 5,400 American forces by early next year – just as Mr Trump revs up his re-election campaign – was at the heart of the negotiations that also sought to secure a cease-fire in Kabul”. Incidentally, presidents Trump and Ghani are both in election mode. Trump has already kicked off his re-election campaign while Ghani faces re-election in this month.

But with the worsening state of violence in Afghanistan, holding peaceful elections will be nothing short of a miracle. Reportedly, on the average the Taliban launch daily attacks in two provinces out of 24. And they have vowed not to let the elections which are planned for September 28 take place. To make matters worse for Ashraf Ghani, President Trump has hinted to withdraw troops even without the peace deal.

Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is Trump’s compulsion. On becoming president, he had wanted to end US involvement in Syria but hawkish elements and interest groups prevailed upon him. Understandably, a peace deal in Afghanistan would have materialised by now if John Bolton was not Trump’s national security adviser. Bolton had opposed Trump’s peace overtures with North Korea and Iran. In fact, for years he had been actively promoting to go to war with Iran. Bolton and peace are each other’s nemesis. Nevertheless, the underlying problem is that the US economy is war-based. It thrives on selling military hardware even to those countries that have no need for it. For the US to promote peace not war is almost unthinkable.

Former President Jimmy Carter’s advice to Donald Trump on April 19 this year is in place. “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war. [We] are the most warlike nation in the history of the world. We have wasted, $3 trillion [on] military spending. China has not wasted a single penny on war and that’s why they’re ahead of us in every way.”

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.


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