In a strongly-worded letter – rife with a sense of Trump-like urgency – addressed to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has intrinsically advanced a Taliban’s rhetoric: the establishment of an interim formation, major constitutional overhaul, and reckless compromise on the gains made over the past 20 years. Interestingly, Blinken, to covertly dictate compliance with the new U.S. proposal, holds the Taliban’s potential territorial gains in Afghanistan over Ghani’s head.
Against all expectations, the letter’s language could be construed as the U.S. administration willingly handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban. This is even though the Biden administration has said the Taliban have not lived up to their commitments to reduce violence and cut ties with extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Continuing the trend of concessions to the Taliban, the letter hints at fulfilling the seemingly Taliban demand of getting President Ghani out of the way.
Primarily seen as appeasing the Taliban yet again, it’s a fundamentally-flawed suggestion to go for a regime change because if there is to be a Bonn-like conference led by U.N. in Turkey with Taliban participation as suggested by the letter, why was the insurgent group excluded in the first place in 2001? If Bonn-produced current system is to be rooted out, what guarantee exists that this newly proposed dispensation would be any different? One would say it’s retrogression to the past, which means the 20 years of achievements mean nothing, and this long-shot approach is being undertaken at the expense of undercutting and undermining the incumbent system. Nevertheless, if a Bonne-like conference guarantees sustainable peace and preserves the rights of people to elect their leader, there is no harm in convening such an assembly. If this gambit doesn’t achieve that outcome, staging such conferences will push us two decades backward and compel us to start everything from scratch.
Against the backdrop of the stalled peace talks and steady levels of violence exacting toll on Afghans, a revised U.S. strategy was expected from the new U.S. administration. Still, the letter coupled with the proposals floated by the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has a theme of coercing peace in Afghanistan, regardless that it says, “We do not intend to dictate terms to the parties.” As the U.S. underwrites most of the Afghan government’s machinery, the country has taken a colonial-type tactic at best to intrude the details of constitutional affairs and future power-sharing arrangements in the country.
The letter could serve the U.S. in two ways: Extending its presence beyond May through the 90-day reduction in violence suggestion (which is very unlikely when it comes to the Taliban) or using it as an exit tool while blaming the Afghan sides for not being able to accommodate the proposals and work out a peace deal in the rushed timeline that they have set forth. Meanwhile, the biggest blunder in the letter seems to be the U.S. warning that even if America provides financial assistance to Afghan security forces, the Taliban may topple the Afghan government in the absence of a peace deal. This coming from a US SOS is very unusual unless there is a planned strategy to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban and Pakistan by getting Ghani out of the way. The notion that Afghan security forces can’t suppress the Taliban is exaggerated and is the same rhetoric the anti-government elements promote. It doesn’t make sense when it comes directly from American partners who should shoulder the Afghan security forces in the global war against terrorism.
Rather than holding the Taliban up to their commitments because they continued the violence and remained mostly absent from talks since January as they indulged in trips to countries, the U.S. administration underestimates the Afghan security forces. Notably, Afghan National Defense and Security (ANDSF), 272,500 strong as per International Institute for Strategic Studies, are responsible for providing security across the country. However, support from the U.S.-led international military is still vital to win the war against the Taliban and global jihadists.
Moreover, the Taliban have used the violence as leverage in the peace talks in Doha, deliberately dragging out negotiations while awaiting a decision by President Biden on the May 1 troop withdrawal. There has only been a tactical change from targeting urban centers to untraceable violence of the insurgent group – targeted attacks and unclaimed VBIEDs. From 10,041 civilian casualties in 2019 to 8,820 in 2020, it seems there hasn’t been a significant decrease according to UNAMA figures. Meanwhile, the last quarter of 2020 has been the deadliest for civilians because as many as 2,792 casualties were recorded. By the same token, the Afghan Peace Watch’s RiV-monitoring initiative has documented 820 civilian deaths since the start of intra-Afghan talks on Sept. 12, with IEDs and assassinations topping the list – each killing 287 and 194 people respectively (35% and 24% of the total).
Considering the circumstances and the complexity of Afghanistan’s quagmire, this hastiness is not the proper way to reinvigorate the talks because the Taliban are being rewarded with back-to-back concessions, more power and international recognition. Also, it’s improbable that the Taliban would agree to some of the suggestions, too, such as accepting the election or removing their military structures from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan. In sum, foreign-imposed systems have never worked in Afghanistan. The new proposal is not less than an imperialist attempt by the U.S. America, as Afghanistan’s partner, needs to deeply ponder its decisions to avoid taking us all back to square one in the wake of continuing sacrifices rendered by Afghans, whose dreams about peace are being shattered.