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Nixed U.S.-Taliban Talks A Relief for Afghanistan Government


Sept. 08, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to abruptly cancel talks with the Taliban may have set back the Afghan peace process, but it came as a relief to the government in Kabul.
President Ashraf Ghani’s administration, which has been excluded from the negotiations, has distrusted the process from the beginning. Afghan officials fear the deal would’ve left the government vulnerable to increased violence and put the Taliban, which controls or contests more than half the country, in an even stronger position to enforce their severely restrictive, ultra-conservative form of Islam.
Despite his misgivings, Ghani had planned to travel to the U.S. to discuss the deal with Trump. But in a series of tweets late on Saturday, Trump announced he’d canceled secret meetings scheduled to be held at Camp David with Taliban leaders and Ghani.
“President Ghani knew the deal had defects,” his spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said by phone on Sunday. “Ghani had expected an outcome from the US-Taliban talks which were a ceasefire and direct negotiations, but that didn’t happen, and instead violence escalated.”
Trump’s move now raises questions on the future of talks to end the U.S.’s 18-year long military commitment in Afghanistan and withdraw its 14,000 troops still in the country. It’s also unclear if the Afghan government will have a greater say in negotiations from now on.
“While the peace process has been dealt a devastating blow, it’s likely not dead,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Washington-based The Wilson Center. “Trump is determined to leave Afghanistan, and leaving with a deal is better for him politically than leaving without one. So talks are not off the table.”
Last weekend the U.S. held its ninth round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, where the group has a political office. U.S. top negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, said they were at the “threshold” of a peace deal.
The insurgent group said the U.S. would “pay the price” for its decision to stop the negotiations. “That will also further America’s human and financial losses and undermine its role in political engagement,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said in statement on Sunday evening.
Even as the talks were reaching their conclusion, the Taliban intensified its campaign of violence. In the past two weeks it’s tried to take over three cities in the country’s north and west -- Kunduz, Pul-E-Khumri and Farah -- leaving dozens killed or wounded.
The group also detonated a truck bomb next to an international compound where foreign NGOs and diplomats are based on Sept. 2, just hours after Khalilzad shared the draft of the agreement with Ghani and the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The attack killed 16 people and wounded 120 others, while Afghan forces rescued about 400 foreigners from the area.
“Sadly, the recent opportunity for #peace at the planned meeting at #CampDavid was sabotaged by Taliban’s wanton violence & other factors. We appreciate the international efforts for an Afghan lead & Afghan owned peace,” Abdullah said in a tweet Sunday.
The government’s concerns echo the warnings issued by nine former U.S. envoys to Afghanistan -- including Ryan Crocker, James Cunningham and James Dobbins -- over the agreement.
“It is not clear whether peace is possible. The Taliban have made no clear statements about the conditions they would accept for a peaceful settlement with their fellow Afghans, nor do they have a track record of working with other political forces,” they wrote in a joint statement released Sept. 3 on the Atlantic Council site.
“There is an outcome far worse than the status quo, namely a return to the total civil war that consumed Afghanistan as badly as the war with the Russians and something that could follow a breakdown in negotiations if we remove too much support from the Afghan state.”
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