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And curtain falls on the Afghan peace talks

The Afghan peace talks, making a robust start and ending with a thud, engaged the world attention for over a year, with the indefatigable Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad shuttling between Doha, Islamabad and Kabul for consultations rising hopes for peace in a land ravaged by war for the past five decades. When the world was waiting with bated breath for good news, the ever unpredictable maestro of twitter diplomacy, the ever great diversionary tactician and the master pretender of infallibility, Donald Trump threw the bombshell of upending the peace process citing the recent suicide attack in Kabul by Taliban killing an American soldier.
The Taliban rubbished President Donald Trump’s excuse claiming that in past one month some 16 NATO soldiers and 1000 of their militants had been killed in skirmishes. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that the Taliban failed to reduce violence in the country. However, it was clear from the very beginning that talks on ceasefire and power-sharing formula would follow. The current talks covered the withdrawal of foreign troops within an agreed timeline, the residue force left behind in the country and the Taliban’s responsibility of denying space to other militant outfits in Afghanistan or preventing the country from becoming again a haven for terrorism.
What has so far emerged from media analysis is that the agreement was finalized as loudly claimed by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad after the last round of talks in Doha. He dashed to Kabul to show the draft of the agreement to President Ashraf Ghani. President Donald Trump had extended invites to the representatives of the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani to the US Presidential resort Camp David to sign the agreement under his watch after which he would announce it sticking a feather in his cap. Though Ashraf Ghani had no other option than boarding the special flight to be arranged by his American patrons heading to the Camp David, the Taliban threw spanner insisting that the agreement should be signed and announced before they go to the US. It would be politically suicidal for them to sign the agreement there along with Ashraf Ghani. Certainly, they wanted to avoid to be seen as equal stooges of America sitting with Ashraf Ghani and doing the bidding of the US leadership. This hurt the big ego of the big man sending him into a fit of rage to upend the peace process.
This may be the simplest explanation for the cancellation of a big event. Whatever the reasons within the complex governing structure of Washington DC forcing the hand of President Donald Trump to draw the curtain on Afghan peace talks, it was quite clear from the beginning that there were too many players in the US capital and within Afghanistan who were wary of the proposed peace deal with the Taliban clearing the deck for their assumption of power in Afghanistan. The Afghan players were deeply concerned about their political, economic and financial interests inseparably linked with the current governing structure in Kabul. They included political and bureaucratic elite, Northern Alliance, warlords, tribal chiefs and religious leaders.
Certain regional states were also not happy at the growing prospects of the Taliban coming into power obviously for different reasons. For one, India was the first country to have trepidations on the peace deal, given its current entrenched position in Afghanistan enjoying a free hand for subversion in Balochistan. We may recall the public statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi admitting their support to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).Although actively in contact with the Taliban, Iran also maintains good relations with the Ashraf Ghani regime in Kabul and would very much like the US to remain bogged down in the Afghan quagmire.
The opponents of the peace deal within the governing structure of the US capital comprised hardliners from President Trump’s team particularly his advisor on security, John Bolton. Some serving army officers and former Generals, who served as commanders of CENTCOM or the NATO forces in Afghanistan, were also unhappy about the peace deal. They may have had a point in arguing that the US went into Afghanistan to achieve certain objectives such as eliminating the network of Al-Qaeda along with their leadership; changing the inhuman system based on the 7th century laws grossly discriminating against women – shutting them within homes, stoning them to death, denying them education, political and economic rights and justice – and establishing a democratic governance. Now that the US had achieved some of these lofty objectives after spending so much time and funds and losing so many lives, it could not afford to bring the Taliban into power and lose all these achievements.
They might have reminded their leader of the civil strife that ensued in Afghanistan after the abrupt withdrawal of the Soviet forces culminating in the tragic murder of President Najibullah and the killing of thousands of Afghans. They, as put it by a columnist, might have persuaded him to work with – rather exclude – the elected representatives of the Afghan people driving home the point that a unilateral deal made by the US without the support of its local allies would be unlikely to last as affirmed by the fall of Saigon within two years of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords between the Nixon administration and North Vietnam.
The likely severe political backlash over the entertainment of the Taliban at the Camp David might have also been one of the reasons for the US leadership to postpone the signing ceremony. However, the postponement of the peace talks does not augur well for the region particularly for Pakistan. Peace in Afghanistan would usher in an era of tremendous economic connectivity providing Pakistan a direct access to Central Asia, facilitating the expansion of CPEC and helping implement a number of schemes of electricity, gas and oil from the resource laden Central Asia to this region which are held up because of Afghanistan conundrum.



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