High voltage drama underlined the US President Donald Trump’s initiation and then subsequent withdrawal of peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US and the Taliban were very close to an agreement when on September 7, Trump through three tweets called off the negotiations. In fact, the draft agreement was ready. The immediate trigger was the killing of 12 people including a US soldier in Kabul on September 5 by the Taliban.
The US President also cancelled a ‘secret meeting’ which he had planned with the Taliban and the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani at the historic Camp David just three days before the anniversary of 9/11. The international community is surprised by the arbitrariness of the decisions. It is believed that VP Mike Pence and fired NSA John Bolton were not in favour of the Camp David meeting. Camp David had witnessed a historic meeting in September 1978 when Camp David Accords were signed by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’’s PM Menachem Begin in presence of the then US President Jimmy Carter following 12 days of secret negotiations.
The US and the Taliban had nine rounds of dialogue in the Qatari capital Doha since it began in October 2018. It was led by Trump’s Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. The draft agreement was to be signed in a couple of days. It was shown to the Afghan president also. The draft agreement talked about the withdrawal of the US soldiers, and in return, the Taliban would commit not to allow any foreign terrorist organisation on Afghanistan soil.
The idea was to withdraw around 5,000 soldiers out of about 14,000 within 135 days of signing the agreement. The withdrawal of US soldiers from Afghanistan was one of the election promises of Trump. The presidential election is due next year and Trump, in all probability, will contest the elections once again.
The negotiation with the Taliban was an issue from the beginning. The militant organisation was not willing to talk to the democratically-elected Afghan government saying it’s a ‘puppet’ government and they will talk only to the ‘master’. Normally, whenever such kind of dialogues are held, the precondition of dialogue is a ceasefire. Taliban never agreed to a ceasefire and even during the negotiations, they continued to target various Afghan cities. Their thinking was that it will strengthen their bargaining power.
The exclusion of the Afghan government from the dialogue was a major drawback from the start. Also, the US succumbed to the Taliban at the beginning by accepting the Taliban’s contention that ceasefire will not be a condition. In the process, the Taliban gained much. There cannot be peace in Afghanistan unless the government of Afghanistan is involved.
The talks between US-Taliban also created fear among Afghan people. The idea of Taliban sharing power in Kabul is a matter of worry for the citizens of Afghanistan. Had they reached an agreement, it might have affected the schedule of Afghan presidential elections to be held on September 27.
Bolton was not in favour of talking to the Taliban. The news of the ‘deal’ compelled nine former US officials including five former ambassadors to Afghanistan to issue a statement and say that Afghanistan could witness total civil war if the US withdraws its forces before they reach a real peace deal involving the Afghan government. They also said the talks went against the core values of the US.
India was always sceptical of the US-Taliban dialogue. Pakistan was a more important player for the US as they could influence the Taliban. Pakistan expects the Taliban to play an important role in Afghanistan’s future. India has a different position. Taliban coming to power in whatever form is not a good idea for India and the Afghan people.
The negotiations being called off is good news for India.
India is already involved in a big way in the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan. India’s consistent policy is to support ‘Afghan-led’ and ‘Afghan-owned’ peace process.