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January 26, 2019

Tactless remarks by Afghan leaders

Top Story

January 26, 2019

In September 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation. But the task faced by the Afghan-born diplomat is intimidating and certainly not easy with an impulsive and brash president sitting in the White House.

Now the Taliban have once again turned down the offer to engage with the present regime-led Afghan delegation for peace in Afghanistan, which it claims is an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime. They have turned down all efforts and engagements to sit with the Kabul regime from all stakeholders, including the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and even Pakistan.

The formal peace talk process had initially gone smoothly with Washington apparently agreeing to discuss pullout of forces from Afghanistan. However, it later started pressurizing the Taliban to sit and discuss issues with the Kabul government. Taliban consider the National Unity Government (NUG-led) Kabul regime as a puppet of the US and therefore insist of talking only with the US.

Apparently, the helpless Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has now started taunting Pakistan for its alleged influence on the Taliban. He instigated the Taliban after registering himself for the presidential office for the second time in July, 2019 scheduled elections. The group’s relationship with Pakistan has long been criticized by Kabul, New Delhi and Washington. However, Washington was ultimately forced to reach out to Pakistan to get the insurgent group in Afghanistan on the table.

Taliban do not want to undermine their battlefield gains by engaging with the Kabul regime as they consider the US as their principal antagonist in the conflict. In 2011, the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan was 130,000 personnel. Today, the steady drawdown has left only 22,000 troops, including 14,000 from the US and the rest 8,000 from Nato and allied countries. Some of the 14,000 US troops are engaged with Nato while others carry out counter terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and Daesh, whose presence in the country is well known.

The massive use of airpower by the United States in 2017-18 has not brought any significant territorial gains for the NUG in Kabul. The US wants to save 45 billion dollars it believes it is wasting in Afghanistan annually. This amount is certainly huge, which the US officials judge can be utilized elsewhere for the security of the United States.

But any arm twisting of the Taliban may affect the peace engagements, thus, putting the chance of peace at threat. Peace talks should go on even if with little delay. Taliban are engaged in the process from an apparent position of strength and they do not want to legitimize the Kabul regime by sitting with them for a dialogue, which could provide the outline for a political settlement. Pakistan as well as all other stakeholders need to understand this fact. Meanwhile, Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan leaders can do without insensitive and offensive remarks that could hurt the emerging peace process.

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