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Analysis

What’s Behind Khalilzad’s Regional Tour?

Monday 8 June 2020
What’s Behind Khalilzad’s Regional Tour?

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What Does US’ Khalilzad Look for in Afghanistan?

Alwaght- Recently, Afghanistan has seen clashes between the Taliban militants and army forces. The clashes follow agreements between the government and the Taliban for a ceasefire and a relative calm the country had as a result. Afghanistan government’s informed sources said that after the end of the three-day truce, at least 30 attacks daily were carried out against the security forces. 

Meanwhile, in an important development, the US warplanes carried out their first airstrike on the Taliban positions since an agreement was reached between Washington and the insurgent group in Doha on February 29. Sources reported that about 13 Taliban fighters were killed by the air raid. 

The spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan Colonel Sonny Leggett said Friday in a tweet that the US airstrikes over the past two days were carried out in Farah and Kandahar provinces. He continued that the strikes were in response to information that the Taliban were preparing to assault the police and army forces in Farah west of the country. 

Amid the increased tensions, the US State Department talked of the visit to Qatar, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan of the US president’s special envoy to Afghanistan and the top negotiator in talks with the Taliban Zalmay Khalilzad. This seems to signal that despite the agreement and also the prisoner swap between the Kabul government and the group as part of the peace process, the White House is pessimistic about the full implementation of the accord and concerned about a new wave of clashes with the Taliban, Khalilzad’s visit is the third one in the past two months motivated by the concerns. 

The lack of progress in the efforts towards talks among home Afghan groups, the Taliban’s opposition to a continuous truce asked for by Washington and Kabul, and the militant group’s discontent with the quality of implementation of the Doha agreement are the main reasons these days hampering a smooth advancement of the Afghanistan peace process. 

A statement released by the State Department asserted that the main goal behind Khalilzad’s regional tour is to broker an agreement between the warring sides to end the clashes and arrange for the next steps to start an intra-Afghan dialogue. 

The mystery of intra-Afghan talks 

The Taliban insist on the implementation of the agreement especially when it comes to withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan and the release of its members from the government prisons. This means that as many as about 5,000 Taliban prisoners are not released from the government jails, there is no hope about the start of the dialogue among the Afghan sides. 

Responding to the US pressure to cease the fire and start the talks with the central government, the Taliban on May 27 released a statement in which it asserted that the country needs a permanent ceasefire and removal of the causes of war, adding that the problems of Afghanistan cannot be solved with temporary ceasefires. The statement, published on its official website, added that believing that a temporary ceasefire is a solution to Afghanistan's problems is a false settlement the opposite side always works towards. 

“Afghanistan war will end forever when its causes are removed forever. Occupation and the government installed by occupation are the causes that defend the interests of the occupiers”, its statement read. 

Taliban has not expressed commitment to the end of attacks on the government forces under the deal with the US. Still, it does not totally reject talks with the government. It insists on a negotiation model in which the government is a force among other forces. 

Talking to the Mehr news agency, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that “jihad against the government is necessary unless they like the Americans want to talk to us to solve the issues through dialogue. We should pave the way for an Islamic political system in the country.” 

There is pessimism about the US intentions behind the push for intra-Afghan negotiations. Many Afghan government officials believe that the peace initiative is a trap to get them into talks that at best will lead to the withdrawal of the American troops and sharing of power with the Taliban, which in the 1990s formed a fundamentalist and coercive government. In fact, government officials are worried about the return of the civil war and bloodshed in their country. 

This pessimism is not limited to Afghanistan. Paul D. Miller, a White House staffer under President George W, Bush and President Barack Obama, likened the Afghanistan situation to the Vietnam War in which the government of President Richard Nixon to move out of quagmire forced the South Vietnam government to sign a peace deal with communist North Vietnam. Two years later, the North’s forces seized Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) that was the capital of the South. 

Despite this mistrust in the US intent, Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO of the national accord government and the chief of the government’s negotiation council in his latest stance said that he was ready for talks “anytime.” 

In such a complicated situation, the US seems to lay its eyes on Pakistan for getting the Taliban on board the peace with the government. To encourage the Taliban to step in the negotiations, Khalilzad hoped that should the Taliban start negotiations with the central government, the US forces will leave Afghanistan ahead of the schedule. According to the agreement with the militant group, by the second quarter of 2021, all of the US forces are supposed to withdraw. 

Trump’s election goals and concerns in Afghanistan issue 

While Trump insists on fulfilling his campaign-time promise of ending the endless US wars, the White House still holds concerns if the Taliban will stay adherent to its commitment to cut relations and help to the Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. 

UN independent reporters recently in a report to the Security Council held that the relations between the Taliban and the al-Qaeda, especially Haqqani Network, are “close.” The report added that during the negotiations with the US, the Taliban was in regular contact with the al-Qaeda for consultations and even gave guarantees for respect to their historic relations. 

Reacting to the report dismissively, the upbeat Khalilzad said that the report was made before the agreement with the group was signed. He said “we are in a good place”, adding that levels of violence in Afghanistan have remained relatively low since May’s Eid al-Fitr ceasefire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.” 

At the same time, he warned that if the group fails to keep its commitments, Washington will review its commitments too. So, one of the main intentions of his regional tour is to make sure that the Taliban is committed to cutting off ties with the Al-Qaeda. He will seek to use the Pakistani sway over the Taliban to this end. 

 

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Afghanistan Taliban US Peace Deal Negotiations

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