U.S.-Taliban Talks Offer Hope

Following 17 years of war, representatives from the U.S. and the Taliban have made ‘significant’ progress in steps towards establishing a negotiated settlement. In mid-January, U.S. negotiators met with members of the Taliban for 6-day long face-to-face talks in Qatar. The negotiations involved the discussion of the U.S. plans to fully withdraw its forces from Afghanistan as well as guaranteeing the halt of terrorist attacks by the Taliban against the U.S. and all other nations. Although successful thus far, expectations that a peace deal would be unveiled on Saturday were not met as many warned that there remains a long road ahead for all parties involved before any ceasefire could be agreed upon.

The CNN dictates that the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilizad, claimed the talks were “more productive than they have been in the past.” Although many topics of conversation were not specified, Khalilizad ensured that “significant progress” had been made on serious issues concerning both states. However, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, asserted that “until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible,” Al Jazeera reports. Mujahid also reaffirmed that although many expected a peace deal to be unveiled on Saturday, that “[r]eports by some media outlets about agreement on a ceasefire and talks with the Kabul administration are not true,” leaving many wondering how long negotiations may take.

Regardless of the progress made during the talks, there remains a long path ahead. A main point of concern are the expectations associated with the term “full withdrawal,” both in regards to personnel already serving on the ground and stationed equipment. In addition, many Afghans have expressed their concerns and fears that the wishes of certain Afghan minority groups, in particular the ethnic Hazaras, are not being represented in the talks. Nevertheless, the risk of not establishing an agreement between the parties could present serious consequences. If the U.S. removes its troops from stations in Afghanistan without a deal with the Taliban, the Afghan government risks collapsing and, as a result, leaving Afghanistan with a power vacuum. Ultimately, many fear that such a scenario may result in the Taliban seizing the capital upon the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, 14,000 U.S. military personnel currently serve in Afghanistan, with troops involved in training, counterterrorism operations and missions associated with NATO. The talks represent a vital campaign promise made by President Trump whom has consistently vowed to reduce American military presence overseas. Since U.S. troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. has contributed nearly $1 trillion in foreign aid and approximately 2,285 U.S. troops and service personnel have lost their lives. With the war taking place on Afghan territory, many more Afghans have suffered at the hands of combat with over 45,000 Afghan police and soldiers having been killed since 2015 alone. If successful, once an agreement is developed, both parties hope to extend the negotiations to between the Taliban and the Afghan government during which a final agreement may be established.

Representatives from the U.S. and the Taliban left the talks with a pledge to reconvene and continue negotiations in late February, the Washington Street Journal reports. After a long 17 years of brutality, negotiations between the two states present a promising end to the war. However, the end is not yet in sight. To accomplish true success in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, both parties must ensure that the appropriate issues are being negotiated and that concerns of minority groups are being heard and actioned. If such actions are not taken, there may be no guarantee of peace and the war may continue to rage on.

Zoe Knight