On October 9th, U.S. officials met with representatives of the Taliban for the first talks after American withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. These talks, taking place in Qatar, are expected to focus on issues of humanitarian aid, the evacuation of American citizens, and the ongoing containment of extremist groups in the region. However, ahead of the talks, the Taliban have ruled out any prospect of military co-operation with American forces – a potential sticking point for the U.S. delegation.
The United States delegation and the Taliban appear to be approaching these talks with different priorities. According to an unnamed official from the U.S. State Department, the United States’ main priority is the continued departure of Afghans, U.S. citizens, and other foreign nationals from Afghanistan. The United States also plans to urge the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans, and to form a government with broad support – a departure from the Taliban’s current path. American representatives were quick to iterate that the talks do not represent the recognition or legitimacy of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s leadership, but are instead the pragmatic approach to ensuring the achievement of policy objectives.
The Taliban, meanwhile, are hoping the talks can result in humanitarian assistance and the lifting of a U.S. ban on Afghanistan’s central bank reserves. The group also reinforced its commitment to 2020’s U.S.-Taliban agreement, which demanded the Taliban break ties with terror groups and guarantee that Afghanistan would not become a safe haven for terrorism once more. At the same time, however, the group refuses to allow America to carry out military operations on its soil to assist in these efforts. When asked if the Taliban would work with the U.S., Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told reporters, “We are able to tackle Daesh [ISIS] independently.”
In the months since seizing power, the Taliban have faced an increase in terror attacks carried out by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, I.S.K.P. (ISIS-K). The group claimed responsibility for attacks on Kabul’s airport in August, as well as a spate of mosque attacks in the previous weeks. Their most recent attack, carried out on October 8th at a Kunduz mosque, killed at least 46 Shia Muslims and wounded dozens more. The increase in violence has international commentators concerned that the Taliban may not be able to contain ISIS, and Taliban resistance to foreign support in this matter may be counterproductive.
For the sake of the Afghan people, it is important that these talks are productive. Afghanistan has faced decades of war already and appears set to face even more conflict with the resurgence of extremist groups. International assistance should help ensure Afghans a modicum of economic security. Likewise, it would be good if the Taliban reflected and altered its approach to military assistance; for example, the help of foreign counterinsurgency teams in an observational or educational role could assist Taliban efforts without compromising the group’s independence. However, it is also important that these talks are not seen as an endorsement of the Taliban and its views. The Taliban has revealed many of its promises of reform to be lip-service, at most – women’s rights have been quickly stripped away, and the Taliban promptly reintroduced forms of capital punishment. While some might argue that the Taliban’s method of rule is effective, it also deprives many Afghans of fundamental freedoms and rights that they were supposed to have been guaranteed.
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