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Changing Game Plan in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2018 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at an event on opioid abuse at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Oct. 24, 2018. Donald Trump on Wednesday vowed to take a thorough investigation into a series of attempted mail attacks targeting former President Barack Obama, the Clintons, CNN and others. (Xinhua/Ting Shen/IANS) by .
U.S. President Donald Trump

The US depended on Pakistan to be its partner in fighting the Taliban’s terror in Afghanistan. Sixteen years Pakistan took money and weapons from the US to fight the Taliban.  But in the full knowledge of the world, Pakistan provided safe havens to the very Taliban who would commit acts of terror in Afghanistan against Afghan civilian population and the US officials and troops….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2018 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at an event on opioid abuse at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Oct. 24, 2018. Donald Trump on Wednesday vowed to take a thorough investigation into a series of attempted mail attacks targeting former President Barack Obama, the Clintons, CNN and others. (Xinhua/Ting Shen/IANS) by .
U.S. President Donald Trump

Defeatism, opportunism and a mix of opportunism and duplicity have become a motive force to push for peace in Afghanistan over the head of the Kabul government.  The sudden and surprising decision of the Trump Administration to withdraw half of the American troops from Afghanistan reflects the United States conviction that it cannot fight the Taliban and it will be in the US national interest to jettison the Kabul government, democracy and the development done in the past 17 years to make Afghanistan a modern State.  China is not interested in democracy, development or human right in Afghanistan but in peace that would promote its Belt and Road Initiative and sew up three countries – China, Pakistan and Afghanistan into one entity under its (China’s) tutelage.  China may believe this needs the Talibanis goodwill.  For Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan means the control of the Taliban of this country so that India is kept out from here and an undeclared triangular defence bloc, consisting of China, Afghanistan and itself, takes shape.

Americans may not agree that the spectre of the Soviet defeat in the 1980s in Afghanistan has been haunting them since 2003 when the then US President George W Bush attacked Iraq practically abandoning Afghanistan, and whatever had been achieved here since 2001, to the lurking Taliban, who wanted to get back their power in this country.  Since then the recognised Taliban have been in the ascendency and by now they have captured at least 40 per cent of the Afghan territory. America has pumped 1 trillion dollars in Afghanistan, lost 2400 US troops besides at least 25000  Afghan soldiers who died after then US President Barack Obama decided in 2014 to recall all combat troops from Afghanistan.  That assured the Taliban their return to Kabul was near and, therefore, they need not make concessions for peace.

 by U.S. Embassy Kabul.
US Ambassador Zalmai Khalilzad (File)

There is no denying the fact that the US has done a lot to convert Afghanistan into a modern democracy.  It has done much for education, health and up-liftment of women.  Yet they failed to evolve a policy to insulate Afghanistan from the threat of the return of the brute Taliban.  Worse, the US depended on Pakistan to be its partner in fighting the Taliban’s terror in Afghanistan. Sixteen years Pakistan took money and weapons from the US to fight the Taliban.  But in the full knowledge of the world, Pakistan provided safe havens to the very Taliban who would commit acts of terror in Afghanistan against Afghan civilian population and the US officials and troops. Americans sheepishly kept telling Pakistan to “do more” to act against the Taliban.  While “do more” became a joke in Pakistan, President Donald Trump on January 1, 2018 burst out against Pakistan accusing it of cheating America.  During the year he stopped aid to it.

But at the end of 2018, he took a U-turn and appealed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to arrange talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban. Imran was elated by this request.  He told a public meeting in Peshawar that the US, which kept on telling Pakistan to “do more” is now requesting us to arrange meeting with the Afghan Taliban.  All this time Pakistan had  denied influence over the subsequently, US officials led by Trump-appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, had three rounds of talks with a group of Afghan Taliban in United Arab Emirate’s capital Abu Dhabi in the presence of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan.  These were world’s only three countries which recognized the unmandated Administration of the Taliban in Afghanistan during 1996-2001.

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. (File Photo: IANS)

The peace meet was practically in camera as it was not known what was its real agenda and what transpired in the meeting. Whatever little is learnt about what transpired in the meeting is from what Taliban spokesman Zahiullah Mujahid reportedly told some media organisation and from sources claiming to be privy to the talks.  According to them, the Taliban had three demands and the US two.

The Taliban wanted (1) their names be taken off the black list, (2) their prisoners be freed and (3) foreign troops must leave Afghanistan.  The US side wanted (1) the Taliban should agree to a six-month ceasefire and (2) they should agree to nominate their representative to future caretaker government in Afghanistan. Newspaper have reported two opposite reactions of the Taliban to it.  One, the Taliban rejected the US suggestion. Two, the Taliban can consider this suggestion if Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan be the guarantor and the US appoints a Taliban nominee as the head of the proposed caretaker government in Afghanistan.  Then the Taliban can think about a ceasefire.  But there were also reports that the Taliban denied that the subject of Afghan caretaker government figured at all. Whatever little tit bits have been gleaned from the three rounds of Abu Dhabi parleys do not inspire optimism about peace in Afghanistan as a result of these talks.

KABUL, Nov. 16, 2017 (Xinhua) -- Photo taken on Nov. 16, 2017 shows a damaged building at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. At least 10 people were killed and nine others wounded after a suicide bombing ripped through a banquet hall in northern neighborhood of Afghanistan's capital of Kabul on Thursday, police and witnesses said. (Xinhua/Rahmat Alizadah/IANS) by .
Image shows a damaged building at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.  (Xinhua/Rahmat Alizadah/IANS)

The Taliban’s contemptuous refusal to acknowledge the 12-member Afghan government delegation was a clear indication that peace for them meant their exclusive control of Afghanistan.  That made mockery of all peace efforts that Khalizad had been making since October.  He told Ariana News he suspected whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace”.  Perhaps nobody in the Trump Administration understands the Taliban complexities and their backers better than Afghanistan –born Khalizad does.  Yet he undertook the mission impossible at desperate Trump’s behest.

Khalilzad’s peace mission had Afghanistan wide disapproval of President Ashraf Ghani, of his colleagues in the governments and of human rights and women organizations.  Ghani’s National Security Advisor Handullah Mohib wrote in a twitter message.  As a sovereign country, no other country or individual has the right or the authority to discuss new governance formulae or structures for Afghanistan, which violate the Afghan constitution.  The authority to make any decision about Afghanistan’s future lies with the Afghan People and their elected leaders.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) warned that if the peace talks limit people’s freedom, people would rebel against the Taliban.  Its Chairperson Sina Samar said if the Taliban wanted peace they should respect human rights and the rights of women.

Imran Khan. (File Photo: IANS) by .
Imran Khan. (File Photo: IANS)

The identity of the group of the Taliban whom Pakistan put before the US team in Abu Dhabi in intriguing.  This Taliban groups included at least two Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban-possibly from the Haqqani network going by Pakistani Urdu newspaper Ummat, the Qatar group of the Taliban, with whom Americans including Khalizad had been negotiating till now, were ousted from US-Taliban talks in Abu Dhabi at the behest of Saudi Arabia and UAE.  Qatar houses the political headquarter of the main faction of the Taliban.  Two rounds of talks had taken place in Doha (Qatar) when Saudi Arabia got the venue changed to Abu Dhabi.

If the Ummat story is correct, no peace agreement with one faction of Taliban can bring peace to Afghanistan.  It will bring more chaos and bloodshed.  The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will try to take full advantage of it.

China was not part of the new parleys, but it has been actively trying to impress the world that it is genuinely concerned about peace in Afghanistan.  The US does not believe in China’s concern. China’s concern is as young as its idea of Belt and Road Initiative.  China’s earlier interest in Afghanistan was linked to this country’s copper mines.  It paid the Taliban heavily to protect its mining interest.

After it launched the Belt and Road Initiative it looks at Afghanistan as a country which will help its expansionist ambitious in the region.  China’s official newspaper Global Times wrote as a country along the Belt and Road, Afghanistan can develop with China’s help. It said China may starts building a road from Kashgar in Xinjing to Kabul.  This will connect Afghanistan, China and Pakistan and facilitate the development of a China-Pakistan.  Afghanistan economic corridor on the basis of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), boosting Afghanistan’s development and providing wider cooperation space for the “three-plus-one” model.  Through this model China aims to develop a different (from what the US tried) Pak-Af bloc connected by CPEC.  For this China needs peace in Afghanistan.