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September 9, 2019

A final breakdown?


September 9, 2019

The door on diplomacy that the US had opened, attempting a dialogue with the Taliban after failing to defeat them following the US’s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, appears to have been slammed shut. It is difficult to say for now if it is to be reopened in the near future or if the idea of talks has been abandoned altogether by the White House. Just ahead of a secret meeting planned for Sunday at Camp David at Maryland with Taliban and Afghan leaders, President Trump announced through a series of tweets that he had “called off” the peace negotiations with the Taliban and “cancelled” the secret meeting with the Taliban’s top leaders after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday near the US embassy on Kabul that killed 12 persons including an American soldier. Trump also suggested what many others had pointed to in the past, that if the Taliban and Afghan government could not agree on a ceasefire during important peace talks, it was hard to imagine that they would be able to discuss any meaningful agreement. The decision announced from the White House ends attempts over the past six years to reach a negotiated settlement aimed at ending 18 years of bitter warfare in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government had consistently expressed concerns over talks with the Taliban which excluded its representatives. The Taliban currently control more of Afghanistan than has been the case at any time since 2001. They are therefore in a powerful position and many Afghan citizens have expressed concerns over a possible return to the strict Taliban rule.

It is worth noting that various attempts to reach agreements with the Taliban have floundered, both before 2001 and after. The US has attempted to obtain a deal with them but promises made were quickly broken. This has been part of a pattern which has followed since then. In 2015, the Afghan government and the Taliban were finally placed around the same table, when talks broke down after it was discovered that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, had been dead for two years but this information had been kept secret by the group. The past is then not very encouraging. And now, after many years we are back to the place from where it all started. Essentially no one has had any workable idea on how to restore peace to Afghanistan and to the region. For Pakistan, whose senior military leaders met the US Central Commander in Afghanistan a short while ago, an end to the peace talks will be equally devastating. However, many Afghanistan analysts have termed Trump’s decision a temporary move, a sort of strategy to signal to the Taliban that they need to be more flexible; the US needs the deal too and needs to seal it from a position of strength. Others feel that a new way forward may be needed. Whatever the next few days and weeks bring, one thing is for sure: Afghanistan needs peace, for itself, its people and the countries it sits next to.

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