US election year and the Afghan peace deal
Naila Mahsud
After the elections of 2016, Trump supporters back home want to put across a message that his win wasn’t a mere fluke and want to see him as patron-in-chief for the next four years. What his re-election does or doesn’t do for the Americans, it does have the potential to taint US’ foreign commitments, mainly in Afghanistan.
At this point, there is enough evidence of the Trump administration’s desperation to evacuate US troops from Afghanistan and bring them back home– a promise made to his loyalists.
Reportedly, the Taliban offered a week-long cease-fire contrary to US officials’ and Afghan governments’ demands of a ‘prolonged period of cease-fire.’ But as pointed out by many, a temporary suspension of fighting by the Taliban in the harsh winter is not much of a concession.
A professor at Queens University added: ‘They are all merrily preparing for the spring offensive. As far as we can tell, from talking to them both in Doha and Pakistan, they assume that regardless of whether they get their signing ceremony, they expect to go ahead with that [offensive].’
Ashraf Ghani and his advisers are struck with skepticism. They believe that the Taliban will have trouble maintaining a future reduction of violence once the intra-Afghan talks start. And from the looks of it, that will suit Zalmay Khalilzad and Trump just fine, who could argue that the failure in maintaining stability in the country is on the Afghan government and not on them.
As signaled by some US officials, the deal could be signed in the next two weeks. But the next two weeks are also very crucial. Mike Pompeo, the US state secretary, has to meet Ashraf Ghani, who feels US envoy Khalilzad has always bent backward for the militants instead of demanding that they [Taliban] officially recognize the elected government of Afghanistan.
Pompeo meeting the Afghan president could also make the Taliban paranoid that the leaders have covertly made some sort of agreement to let some of US troops stay in Afghanistan, and a Taliban reaction can even be expected.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Ghani government and said they will only negotiate if members of the government attend broader political talks as ordinary Afghan citizens– which seems unlikely.
It is also unlikely that the US will send troops back to Afghanistan after it has withdrawn, no matter what happens on the ground. Trump’s election campaign mainly revolves around his promise to pull out US soldiers from endless and bloody wars.
But the US withdrawal can also potentially tip the military balance in the insurgent group’s favor which could prove deadly if they have no intention of a comprehensive settlement. If you remove America from the equation, the Taliban are relatively stronger, and if the Taliban don’t actually seek peace, then the Afghans are in trouble. Almost 19 years ago, the world’s largest military came after a handful of men including Osama Bin Laden, and an entire generation of Afghans has grown up in the shadows of the war.
It seems to prove Hegel’s old adage that the only thing you learn from history is that, sadly, no one ever learns from history.
In October 1963, when the UK Prime Minister Harold Mcmillan was handing over his office to Alec Douglas-Home, he is supposed to have passed on some words of advice to his successor according to historical accounts: ‘My dear boy, as long as you don’t invade Afghanistan, you will be absolutely fine.’