(MENAFN - Daily Outlook Afghanistan) Despite ongoing peacenegotiations between the United States and the Taliban, the bloody conflict inAfghanistan continues to take a heavy toll on the country's people. The recentsuicide bombing by the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State (IS-K) at a weddingin Kabul, which killed more than 60 and injured close to 200, is a starkreminder of Afghanistan's poor security situation. It also shows that theTaliban are not the only armed opposition fueling the conflict. A US-Talibanpeace pact is therefore unlikely to bring any respite.
The US-Talibannegotiations in Doha – in which the Afghan government is not a participant –are comparable to two previous peace processes: the Paris talks that resultedin the January 1973 peace treaty between the US and North Vietnam; and thenegotiations that led to the 1988 Geneva Accords, signed by the Afghan andPakistani governments with the Soviet Union and the US acting as guarantors.
These two agreementswere designed to enable the US and the Soviet Union to exit with 'honor fromwars they could not win, by bringing about, respectively, the 'Vietnamizationand 'Afghanization of those conflicts. Both agreements failed to achieve theirobjectives.
By 1975,Soviet-backed North Vietnamese forces had overrun South Vietnam, humiliatingthe US. And in 1992, the US-supported Afghan Islamic resistance forces, themujahideen, brought about the collapse of the Soviet-installed communist regimein Kabul.
Whereas the NorthVietnamese soon succeeded in uniting their country and restoring peace,however, Afghanistan has fared much worse. The socially and politically dividedmujahideen soon turned their guns on one another. And Pakistan took the opportunityto advance its regional interests by nurturing the extremist Taliban, who in1996-98 conquered most of Afghanistan and subjected it to strict theocraticrule.
The Taliban in turnharbored al-Qaeda, which carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attackson the US. That prompted America, backed by its NATO and non-NATO allies, tointervene in Afghanistan the following month with the aim of destroyingal-Qaeda and dislodging the Taliban regime. The US-led forces quickly dispersedal-Qaeda's leadership and ended Taliban rule, but failed to defeat either groupdecisively. The Taliban and elements of al-Qaeda staged a comeback within twoyears of the US intervention, and have tied down American and allied forces ina low-grade but staggeringly costly insurgency ever since.
Now, after nearly twodecades of fighting, US President Donald Trump desperately wants to disentangleAmerica from a seemingly unwinnable war – preferably through a politicalsettlement with the Taliban. Trump's Special Representative for AfghanistanReconciliation, the Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad, has been engaged sinceSeptember 2018 in shuttle diplomacy, in an eerie parallel with the unsuccessfulefforts of then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to bring about peace in theMiddle East following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
Khalilzad has justbegun his ninth round of negotiations with Taliban representatives in Doha.Separately, he has had numerous meetings with the Afghan government and non-governmentalleaders, as well as with regional and international actors – but not Iran, withwhich the US is locked in a cycle of deepening hostility.
He has focused onfour interrelated objectives: a timetable for the exit of all foreign troopscurrently in Afghanistan; a commitment from the Taliban to prevent hostile actsbeing launched against the US from Afghan soil; direct negotiations between theTaliban and the Afghan government, which the Taliban regard as 'illegitimateand a 'puppet; and a ceasefire across Afghanistan.
But althoughKhalilzad may finally manage to reach agreement with the Taliban regarding thefirst two aims, there is no guarantee that America's partner in the peace talkswill help to realize the remaining two. The Afghan government's weakness andinternal divisions would give the Taliban the upper hand in any power-sharingarrangement, particularly after US and allied forces have left. And it is verydoubtful that the Taliban, whether in power or as a partner in power, would beable to control other armed opposition groups, most importantly IS-K, or enlistthe support of a cross-section of Afghanistan's diverse population.
The Taliban areethnic Pashtuns, hailing specifically from the Ghilzai tribe to which AfghanPresident Ashraf Ghani and many around him belong. Neither the Ghilzais nor therival Durrani tribe of former President Hamid Karzai are much trusted bynon-Pashtun ethnic groups, who (though themselves divided) collectively formthe largest share of Afghanistan's population. To complicate matters further,all Afghan ethnic groups have extensive cross-border ties with the country'sneighbors.
Meanwhile, IS-K hasloyalty to no one inside Afghanistan. The group became operational in 2015 andis said to have about 2,000 fighters (including some Taliban defectors), whoare dedicated to creating disruption and chaos. They have been responsible forhorrific attacks across Afghanistan, especially in Kabul and mostly on civiliantargets.
Any withdrawal of USand allied forces during Trump's current term, whether phased or otherwise,must be based on conditions on the ground. Otherwise, the consequences will bedisastrous. Because of the way the peace process and the situation inAfghanistan have evolved, a hasty foreign-troop withdrawal would lead to afiasco similar to those generated by the earlier Soviet retreat from thecountry and by the US withdrawal from Vietnam.
To avoid such acatastrophe, the US and its allies need to remain in Afghanistan for at leastanother decade. But Trump is in a hurry, and thinks that a strong CIA presencein the country will manage to do what Western forces have been unable toachieve. More likely than not, that will prove to be wishful thinking.