U.S. Resumes Peace Talks with the Taliban: What is the Point?

Taliban Deputy Chief Arrives in Qatar for Talks With U.S ...
U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Moscow in February – (Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP)

Trump’s reasons for wanting the U.S. to leave Afghanistan are not just understandable but legitimate. Over 2,400 American soldiers have been killed and approximately 20,320 wounded, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent in an 18-year campaign with no end in sight. In a surprise visit on Thanksgiving Day to the 13,000 U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan eighteen years after the U.S. invaded the country in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Donald Trump said the United States has resumed peace talks with the Taliban.

Trump’s first trip to the South Asian country on Thursday since becoming the president came a week after a prisoner swap between Washington and Kabul that had raised hopes for the revival of peace talks. “The Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them and we are saying it has to be a ceasefire and they didn’t want to do a ceasefire and now they do want to do a ceasefire, I believe. It will probably work out that way,” he told reporters.

Earlier this year, the U.S. reached a deal in principle with the Taliban group to pull out troops from the country and wind down America’s longest war in return for security guarantees. Trump, however, made a shock move in September, describing the year-long talks as “dead” and withdrawing an invitation to the group to meet near Washington due to the killing of a U.S. soldier. The Taliban, prior to Trump’s decision to halt the peace process, had defended a suicide bombing carried out against an international compound in the Afghan capital that killed at least sixteen people and wounded 119.

Violence in Afghanistan has yet to have ceased as both Afghan forces and Taliban militants attempt to increase their leverage in ongoing peace talks. During State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump stated negotiations for peace with the Taliban were underway to facilitate a pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It is something he said he would never do a year ago. Yet many Afghans worry that Trump’s desire to pull American troops from Afghanistan will override doubts about the Taliban’s sincerity. During the initial talks early this year, Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser to Afghan Predient Ashraf Ghani, said counting on the Taliban to control other militants could be like “having cats guard the milk.”

The Taliban have refused to negotiate formally with the Afghan government, but diplomatic efforts continue to foster dialogue. Just days before Trump’s visit, a civilian aid worker from San Francisco, Anil Raj — an American citizen — was killed in a weekend attack on a U.N. vehicle in Afghanistan. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but both Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in the capital and have repeatedly claimed previous attacks. 

And just one day before Trump shared Thanksgiving with the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in the capital city of Kabul, at least 15 civilians — seven women, eight children six of them girls — all of them guests of a wedding party, were killed and two more were injured in the northeastern Kunduz province, after their car, they were traveling in, was hit by a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban.

Phyllis Chesler, author of American Bride in Kabul, had said: “I do fear for the Afghan people — particularly women and young girls — if and when America leaves, especially those who have shown so much courage in standing up for themselves against incredible odds.”

Despite President George W. Bush declaring victory in the country in 2004, Afghanistan today remains divided, corrupt, volatile and a haven for terrorists. The Taliban maintains its grip on almost 60 percent of the country, the most territory it has controlled since 2001. As in all war-torn societies, women suffer disproportionately. Afghanistan is still ranks the worst place in the world to be a woman. Notwithstanding  Afghan government and international donor efforts since 2001 to educate girls, an estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not attend school. It is held that 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate, while 70-80 percent face forced marriage, many before the age of sixteen. A September watchdog report called the USAID’s $280 million Promote program — billed the largest single investment that the U.S. government has ever made to advance women’s rights globally — a flop and a waste of taxpayer’s money.

Let us not forget that while some may dismiss the Taliban’s demands as merely its hard line initial position that can be whittled down in negotiations, it has held firm on these demands for well over a decade. When the Obama administration attempted to negotiate peace with the Taliban during and after the Afghan surge, the Taliban did not budge on its demands. The Taliban was, however, able to extract concessions, such as the opening of its political office in Qatar and the release of five dangerous leaders who were held at Guantanamo, at zero cost. After extracting concessions, the Taliban walked away, leaving U.S. efforts to cut a deal in shambles.

The Taliban are responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people, the destruction of dozens of schools and hospitals and the oppressing of the Afghan people, now too scared and tired to fight any longer. Metrah Haidari, a fourth year political science and religion major at the University of Toronto, said: “I’d like to bring the world’s attention to all the appalling practices still prevalent in Afghanistan, which is in large part due to the Taliban’s commitment to keeping Afghanistan in the world’s lowest ranks socially, economically, politically and morally. The practices I refer to range from the rape of children younger than 5-years-old, to the killing of young women for “moral crimes,” for which men are not held to the same standard.”

I am sure that there is not a single American who would not want the U.S. troops to finally come home; something Trump has been trying to do since he took office. Yet forging a peace treaty with the Taliban would be as promising as wearing a raincoat for protection from a nuclear fallout. The Taliban is more than happy to negotiate the terms of U.S. withdrawal — but if and only if an accord is reached on their terms. If a so-called peace agreement can be reached, you can be sure it will be one that will not benefit the Afghan people, the U.S., or the region. Not to mention, all the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made would be in vain.

Citing the U.S. experience in Iraq, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned against a hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2011, which had set the stage for the rise of the ISIS and the regional chaos that resulted, “We can want the war over; we can declare the war over,” but the threat of terrorism to the U.S. homeland emanating from Afghanistan will persist and “the enemy gets a vote.”