Friday February 23, 2024

US races for Taliban deal but Afghan peace further away

July 06, 2019

WASHINGTON: After nearly two decades in Afghanistan, the United States is racing to reach an agreement with the Taliban within two months but a broader peace deal for the war-ravaged country looks far more elusive.

President Donald Trump, in a rare position widely backed by the rival Democratic Party, is impatient to pull the remaining 14,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, believing nothing more can be achieved from the military operation launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

On a visit to Kabul in late June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US is seeking a deal with the Islamist extremist Taliban by September 1 -- before Afghanistan's elections, which could throw in a new element of chaos. US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has met seven times with the Taliban and, in a potentially major first step, the insurgents have agreed to meet a wide range of Afghans starting Sunday in Qatar.

The Taliban have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the internationally recognized government in Kabul. In Doha, any Afghan officials will participate in "personal capacity and on equal footing" with the Taliban, according to Germany, which organized the meeting alongside Qatar.

"I think there is a strong possibility that there could be an agreement between the US and the Taliban even sooner than September, but an agreement that is just between the US and the Taliban is not a peace agreement for Afghanistan," said Laurel Miller, who served as the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama.

"It doesn´t address the really hard questions of what role the Taliban is going to play or not play in governing Afghanistan and what happens to the current government and system of government that the United States helped set up," said Miller, now the Asia program director at the International Crisis Group. The apparent US breakthrough with the Taliban is simply because the Trump administration made a concession by agreeing to negotiate even though the insurgents are not talking to Kabul, she said.