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The US and Taliban Peace Talks – A Success?

FACTS:

Nearly 11 days after peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began with high hopes, it has become clear that any resolution to the 18-year war could be slow.

One of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?

The answer is so important because the two sides had already agreed in principle on a framework for two crucial issues: the withdrawal of American troops, and a commitment that Afghan soil would not again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, as Al Qaeda did with its strikes on Sept. 11, 2001. That attack led the Americans to invade Afghanistan in an effort to hunt down Al Qaeda’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban have said they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks. American negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism.

The Taliban have said they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks. American negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism.

The Americans have so far tried to link any progress on a withdrawal timeline to the Taliban engaging with Afghans, including the government. Afghan political leaders regularly caution the chief American negotiator against any agreement with the Taliban on withdrawing troops that would result in the Americans losing their leverage before making progress on the political front. “I am ready to even sacrifice my life for peace, but not for a peace that will be a new chapter of carnage,” Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said in a speech on Wednesday.

Yes, they should be considered a success

[written by Fiona Morrison]

Over two weeks of peace talks between Americans and Taliban members have ended with some progress toward peace, and there is some reason to hope for even more. In Doha, Qatar United States’ representatives met with an envoy of Taliban representatives including five men who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for thirteen years after being captured post  9/11 attacks. In 2014 these five men were released as a part of a deal to exchange their freedom for that of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl the only known service member held as a political prisoner in Afghanistan at the time. The goal of these talks was to bring the military conflict in Afghanistan to an end as well as prevent any terror attacks from Afghanistan directed at the United States or its allies in the future. In addition to this, member of the Taliban envoy wishes to remove the United States military forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Simply the fact that a meeting such as this has taken place shows that significant progress has been made. For years the United States and the Taliban have communicated chiefly via violence rather than through diplomacy. Not only this but both sides believe that their talks have been worthwhile. The chief American peace envoy Zamaly Khalilzad stated, “My time here was well spent. We made progress, and we had detailed discussions to reach an understanding of issues that are difficult and complicated”.

From the perspective of the United States, progress has been made through a Taliban promise that they will not allow terrorist attacks from Afghanistan to take place. From the Taliban, perspective progress has been made in planning to remove foreign troops from Afghanistan. At the peace talks, several representatives made emotionally charge speeches demanding the removal of troops within six months. The United States’ response by saying that they with a proposed plan of withdrawing troops over the next three years. Ultimately both sides goal is peace, a spokesperson for the Taliban stated, regarding the top two issues discussed by the Talbina representatives in private that “Those two issues were the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing anyone from harming others from Afghan soil”. The two groups plan to meet again within the next month to complete a concrete deal.

No, the peace talks are merely a front for the Taliban [written by Shreya Kumar]

The longest direct peace talks ever held between the U.S. and the Taliban ended recently with both sides proclaiming progress towards ending the almost two-decade long war in Afghanistan, but with several questions left unanswered.

The talks lasted thirteen days, with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad meeting face-to-face with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban organization and veteran battlefield commander. Khalilzad said that they were unable to persuade the Taliban to conduct peace talks with the U.S. backed government in Kabul, which the Taliban view as corrupt and under too much American influence. Although the U.S. envoy was simply trying to move the talks to another location, admittedly to place the potentially volatile situation under a little more American control, the Taliban officials adamantly refused. This underlines the difficulty presented by controlling the situation. Knowing what the Taliban are capable of, extreme caution needs to be exercised here. They are prone to not cooperating with the efforts of the American government, so further negotiations and peace talks are looking like they will become increasingly more difficult.

In addition, the two sides seem to be in agreement about the withdrawal of American forces, but they continue to disagree on what is perhaps the most important and effectual decision –  the timeline and whether a residual force will remain. The situation in this country should be prevented from potentially being put out of control. One way that the American government has ensured this is by placing troops there. The timing needs to be such that there will be little threat of the situation escalating to such an extent that it is destructive. This decision may not be entirely in our hands and thus, ill timing may cause more problems than it should. A residual force would ensure that the American government still has some influence in the area, albeit minimal. This would just make sure that there is some control over the area, again, to prevent any unwanted action taken and unnecessary destruction. Even if the American government does agree to pull out the American forces according to the quick timeline that the Taliban are suggesting, they may encounter logistical difficulties in withdrawing 10,000 troops along with heavy equipment and machinery from the country. This may have unintended effects on the timeline and the attitude of the Taliban on the American government, perhaps affecting planned peace talks in the future.

Both sides of the argument have continued to battle it out even during peace talks, neither side calling a ceasefire. Even if the Taliban agree to halt their military operations (as they are expected to) they may not act against other militant operations. The Taliban have been unable to dislodge an Islamic State affiliate group from its power in the eastern Nangarhar province. After a withdrawal, the U.S. armed forces will have difficulty getting involved as well, leaving that group still in their position of power.

Other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, are affiliated with the Taliban and are still active in areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban may be able to convince such groups to lay low, but they are unlikely to take active action against their anti-Western efforts. Thus, agreeing with the Taliban’s conditions for the peace talks may not actually result in what was intended for them. The situation is unpredictable as to their efforts in the American favor and how effective their influence over other militant forces will actually be. It may not be able to be trusted.

Overall, there is too much unpredictably that comes with the Taliban regime for them to be trusted to comply with the terms of the agreements. Peace talks will most likely result in too much American acquiescence and not enough Taliban cooperation. The resulting actions taken will not advance American interests to the extent which they should be for peace talks of this caliber. The effects of this peace talk have the potential to save countless lives and improve the efforts for global peace significantly. The American government should not be the side making compromises.

For more information, check out our sources here:

Mashal, Mujib. “2 Weeks of U.S.-Taliban Talks End With ‘Progress’ but No Breakthrough.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/world/asia/afghanistan-us-taliban-talks.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer. 

Mashal, Mujib. “Once Jailed in Guantánamo, 5 Taliban Now Face U.S. at Peace Talks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/world/asia/taliban-guantanamo-afghanistan-peace-talks.html?login=email&auth=login-email.

[According to All Sides Media Bias Rater, New York Times is considered left leaning]

Gannon, Kathy. “Q&A: After Marathon Afghan Talks, Is Peace at Hand?” Fox News, FOX News Network, 13 Mar. 2019: 2019 URL:  www.foxnews.com/world/qa-after-marathon-afghan-talks-is-peace-at-hand

[According to the University of Michigan Research Guides, Fox News is considered moderately right]