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The U.S. is ready to face direct negotiations with the Taliban in an effort to end the 17-year long war in Afghanistan. These recently increased diplomatic efforts to seek some form of negotiations follow the scenes of the recent three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban following the end of Ramadan, which ABC News reports had created momentum for continued efforts towards an eventual political settlement. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has declared that the U.S. is open to discussing the position of international troops in Afghanistan for which the Taliban requested to be removed from the country as a condition for the negotiations.
As tensions and violence have increased since U.S. President Donald Trump ordered additional troops and airstrikes, Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson reveals that “the United States is ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces.” On the other hand, Sohail Shahin, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar says “it (has been) what we wanted and were waiting for – to sit with the U.S. directly and discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal told Reuters that fighting needed to continue against certain elements of the Taliban. The Taliban has previously rejected talks with the current Afghanistan government led by President Ashraf Ghani for which they see as illegitimate, and negotiations are to be conducted directly with the U.S.
Pompeo realizes that while the overall peace process must be Afghan-led, there is the need for a security-relationship with Afghanistan in order to stage attacks against terrorist organizations. Sohail Shahin tells Al Jazeera that he expects to see the Taliban leaders removed from the UN’s blacklist in order to be able to travel freely. With such strategic interests in finding a way to deal with the emanating threats, the legitimacy of the talks for peacemaking can be questioned.
The Taliban has long demanded direct talks with the U.S. as a way around consulting with their own Afghan government. ABC News recounts the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that removed the Taliban from power, however, 17 years on, about 45% of the country’s districts are once again either Taliban-controlled or contested. The Council on Foreign Relations highlights that the group wants the Americans and the rest of NATO out of Afghanistan for good, for they have placed the burden on the U.S. for their own domestic militancy problems.
According to Al Jazeera, U.S. officials have shared that President Trump has lacked patience with the progress in Afghanistan, where the Taliban continues to control much of the country despite the aggressive campaign of air raids announced last year which he believed would have made them stand down. In January 2018, President Trump had ruled out the idea of negotiations with the Taliban, for which he condemned the group for their deadly blasts. Until today, however, the narrative in Afghanistan still centres around the idea of an ‘Afghan solution’ which General Nicholson suggests “enables the Afghan military to run the war with reduced foreign assistance.”
There are yet many obstacles to conquer before a conflict such as this is fully resolved. With a total of 1,692 civilians killed in the first half of 2018, Al Jazeera suggests that this record number of civilian casualties is far from over. With the struggle to reverse Taliban gains, the Afghan army has also had to deal with the emergence of a global branch of Islamic State militants which could push the peace process into a deeper end, delaying the end of the conflict in the region. While no dates have yet been set for any US-Taliban talks, in hindsight, with such ideas being voiced, peace and security can at least now be imagined.