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The US-Taliban peace talks

The Trump administration’s special adviser on Afghan peace met last week with Taliban representatives in Qatar for talks that included “working toward finding a peaceful resolution” to the war. Zalmay Khalilzad, a hawkish diplomat appointed as the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation last month, has met with six Afghan Taliban leaders. Zalmay had earlier held consultations in Islamabad, Riyadh and Doha also. The meeting, in all cases, is a significant development towards finding peace in Afghanistan. This also reflects the America’s fresh thinking to acknowledge the political and military reality in Afghanistan. America invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 in the aftermath of terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 resulting in dislodging of Taliban government, which the America thought, was shelter the master-minds of American attack. After initial defeats, Taliban, however, gathered their strength again pushed the American and its allied forces to the wall by capturing almost 45 percent territory of the country. The Afghan strategy by Trump last summer, which aimed at boosting Afghan security forces and the presence of the US troops, did not prove to be effective enough to defeat the Taliban. The US seems to have got frustrated by the Taliban attacks in the capital Kabul and other strategic cities. What is most worrisome for the US is that it is losing on all counts and finds itself in a nutcracker situation. It can neither afford to exit as a defeated super power, nor can it stay for long. It has lost the war but is not acknowledging it and badly wants a face saving formula. It can exit only through Pakistan and not via northern network which is no more available to ship out heavy baggage. The US is faring poorly on all other fronts including the domestic front where Trump has become highly unpopular. Both Pakistan and Taliban are defiant and holding their ground. The pressure on Pakistan too seems to have failed.

Since the rise of Imran Khan to power in Pakistan, Pakistan civil and military authority appear on the same page, and publicly demonstrate their guts to say “no” to Washington. The emergence of Sino-Russian camp and the possibility of Pakistan slipping into it with Iran and Turkey, is also giving the Trump administration sleepless nights. The US fears the possibility of Russia giving surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban to counter air threat. The superiority of America in air attacks is the only factor that stops Taliban from walking Kabul. The Russian supplies would then boost Taliban to undefeatable forces. India’s walking into America’s lap and its involvement in Kabul is the last thing Pakistan and Taliban would ever accept. The demise of Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has dealt a severe blow to India’s interests. Pakistan’s decision to repatriate Afghan refugees was another shock not only for India but also for the US and Ashraf Gani administration of Kabul as well. Pakistan also undertook the construction of 830 km border fence and setting up of 400 border forts along the harshest border terrain with Afghanistan. The construction work is expected to be completed by 2019. This has given a major advantage to Pakistan to guard itself against the enti Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. The Pakistan-China economic cooperation in the form of CPEC has come up as a another hissing cobra for both USA and India, which would not only smash their global ambitions and isolate them, but also strengthen their foes China and Pakistan.

The Trump administration seems to have finally understood the dangers of continuing its military engagement in Afghanistan. It is for this fact that voices of talks with Taliban are coming equally from the civil and military administration of the United States. Pakistan has long been pleading for ending the war through negotiations with Taliban; the Afghan and U.S. officials have accused it of aiding and abetting Taliban. Washington, in a bid to put pressure on Pakistan, has suspended $300 million in military aid. A key part of Khalilzad’s assignment is to persuade Pakistan to actively back peace talks. It is quite a positive development happening in the region. Rising above petty interests, all the powers involved in should contribute to these peace efforts.