The Afghan peace talks
Waqar Ahmed


US General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said the Taliban "are not losing" and there is no "military solution" to ending the war in Afghanistan. Dunford made the remarks amid US-Afghan attempts to launch peace talks with the Taliban. "They are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say," Dunford said during a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Canada, on November 17. Dunford, the senior-most US military officer, added the United States and its NATO allies were working to leverage military, political, and economic pressure to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war. "We do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile," he said. "The key to success is to combine all that pressure to incentivize the Taliban" to negotiate.

These remarks were no surprise. The Taliban control more territory than ever before the US invasion of the South Asian country in 2001. According to US estimates, government forces control less than 60 percent of Afghanistan, with the remainder either contested or under the control of the insurgents. The Taliban are mounting attacks on Afghan military bases while Daesh is killing civilians.

Recently, the Russian government held talks to find out a solution to the imbroglio. The Taliban listed four conditions for beginning peace talks at the important meeting hosted by the Russian government. According to the speech delivered by the Taliban delegation, the group put up four conditions to begin the peace talks i.e. removal from sanctions, release of all detained Taliban cadres, formal opening of office and stopping of “poisonous propaganda” against the Taliban, including allegations of its involvement in attacks on students and civilians.

The meeting was also attended by India, which is apparently changing its policy of not engaging directly with the Afghan group. India's external affairs ministry claimed its participation was “consistent” with its policy of backing Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process for peace. “Where did we say there will be talks with the Taliban? We just said we will be participating in a meeting on Afghanistan, hosted by Russia.” This was certainly an interesting twist of stance as the Congress declared the Centre’s decision amounted to a reversal of India’s stated policy of not engaging the Taliban. “Sitting at the same table as Taliban, notwithstanding the chicanery of saying India was represented at a non-official level, has only served to legitimise Taliban,” said party spokesperson Manish Tewari.

India, which has reportedly committed $3 billion for Afghanistan's development in the last 17 years, claims it is committed to Afghanistan’s efforts to emerge as a united, peaceful, secure, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation, a claim contested by Afghanistan's immediate neighbour Pakistan in the light of her experiences.

On the other hand, President Donald Trump is making strenuous efforts to settle the conflict peacefully, appointing US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to hold talks with the Taliban. However, the Americans have not been successful as attacks against the allied and Afghan forces continue while civilians are also being targeted. They cannot end the war unilaterally and cannot leave the Afghan government in extreme peril. The “mother of all bombs” has not made any difference nor the additional 3,000 US troops.

Similarly, the greater use of armed drones and American engagement in using firepower is proving ineffective. Trump's Afghanistan plan is proving a failure. The Americans are understandably frustrated.

At the same time, the Taliban peace talks will not produce the desired results immediately. It will take time as Taliban will try to make more gains in the summer offensive 2019. The Americans want to avoid the offensive and seek quick results. But it seems the Taliban are not in a hurry as they believe that time is on their side while only an agreement can end the protracted war.