Mullah Akhtar’s Pre-condition for Peace Talks: Expulsion of Foreign Troops from Afghanistan

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, Taliban’s new leader, demanded that Afghanistan’s government must cancel a security deal with the United States and expel all foreign troops if it wants peace. This was his first message since he took over the group.

“If the Kabul administration wants to end the war and establish peace in the country, it is possible through ending the occupation and revoking all military and security treaties with the invaders,” Mansour said in the message. The message, which was posted in English on the Taliban’s website under Mansour’s name also encouraged unity: “God willing, the Afghan Muslim people will, through their strengthening of unity, foil this conspiracy.”

But, Afghan military analyst, General Atiqullah Amarkhil, said that the demand for the cancellation of the security pact was new. “By issuing such messages, Mansour is trying to boost support among his followers and to get more concessions during negotiations,” General Amarkhil said. He added that “Mansour wants to show the Afghan people and the world that the Taliban are capable of continuing the war.”

The Obama administration had signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani in September of last year, which paved the way for them to station about 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan for the next ten years. Washington invested incredible amounts of energy into signing this deal as Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had refused to sign the pact with United States, even after Loya Jirga, the Grand Assembly of Afghanistan, had endorsed the deal in November of 2013 and had asked him to do so as well for the welfare and security of Afghanistan.

Stationing U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan is crucial for the security of the country in the near future. This residual force in Afghanistan is not engaged in day-to-day fighting with Taliban militants, instead, their focus is on training, support, and counter-terrorism operations. Additionally, foreign troops have engaged themselves in training the Afghan National Army and police to help them combat domestic and international challenges left behind following the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. This process requires large sums of money to be invested, which the Afghan government is reluctant to invest right now, given the bleak economic situation of the country.

On the other hand, the Bilateral Security Agreement was a necessary pact for the United States to make in order to ensure the safety of its bases inside Afghanistan. These bases are of extreme strategic importance to the United States in the wake of the current scenario in the neighborhood, where it has intensified its participation in the fight against ISIL. Lessons learned from Iraq contributed to the United States’ desire to sign this pact with Afghanistan as they did not want the country to fall into the hands of extremists after a sudden and complete withdrawal of its troops from the country, which was the case in Iraq.

Meanwhile, a UN report from last month illustrated that civilian casualties in Afghanistan had hit a record high in the first half of 2015 as Afghan forces struggled to contain the expanding conflict without the assistance of NATO combat forces. The report said 1,592 civilians were killed, which represents a six percent decreased since last year while the number of injured increased four percent as 3,329 injuries were reported. The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.

Recent overtures by President Ashraf Ghani’s government for a peace settlement have resulted in failure. As such, despite its internal struggles, and the recent emergence of the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in the country, the Taliban’s 14-year insurgency shows no sign of weakening.