Trump walks away from peace talks in absurd move
President Trump has, in a dramatic tweet, announced the cancellation of his secret meeting with Taliban leaders scheduled to take place in Camp David on Sunday, and has said he has “called off” peace talks.
The President’s stated reason is a bomb blast in Kabul that killed twelve people including an American soldier.
Attacks on Afghan and coalition forces are commonplace all over Afghanistan. Not a day passes by without lethal attacks on police and army soldiers across the country and in recent weeks, these attacks have not only multiplied but have led to greater fatalities for civilians and members of security forces.
But Trump’s statement was as dramatic as it was unwarranted. The US has invested so much time and effort in hard negotiations spread over a period of eleven months.
There were nine rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha and the President’s Twitter post has taken many by surprise. The agreement that was reached with the Taliban was ready and finalized with the US administration updated every step of the way. There were no surprises in store for President Trump with the two sides slowly moving towards a consensus document that would take into account the Kabul government’s sensitivities.
What then, caused President Trump to make this shocking announcement?
The truth is, there was considerable opposition to the draft agreement within some circles of the Trump administration. This included Secretary of State Pompeo, who was unhappy about formally recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate entity, or giving concessions to the movement.
One reason for the President’s surprise announcement, could be that he was bowing down to pressure from within his administration.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
There were concerns that the Taliban would take on an even more defiant stand on issues regarding the formation of a government in talks with Kabul. Similarly, the Kabul leadership was unhappy because they feared mainstreaming the Taliban by including them in government.
One reason for the President’s surprise announcement could be that he was bowing down to pressure from within his administration. This is hard to comprehend because the US response to the Taliban demands was formulated over a period of time with all principal advisers on board. But it could be that the pressure became unbearable and the President had to act to prevent a split within the government.
It could also be a ploy – putting pressure on the Taliban just as they were converging on a deal in order to extract more concessions, like the movement agreeing to a limited ceasefire. The Taliban have persistently rejected the offer of a ceasefire because they believe it would be impossible for them to recall their volunteers and make them fight again.
In any case, the cancellation of talks after an agreement has been finalized after almost a year of negotiations, is absurd. The US announcement will cause more desperation and more acrimony not only in the ranks of the Taliban but even within the Afghan security forces. Hope will give way to despondency.
In the prevailing climate of deepening frustration, there might be more deadly attacks on the government and coalition forces, more reprisals and more air attacks in an escalating cycle of more violence.
There will also be more misery for impoverished Afghans. In this situation of growing insecurity, many non-state actors will try to settle scores with opponents and rivals.
But there is an urgent need to save Afghanistan from the brink of an expanding disaster. US- Taliban talks must be revived, and countries like Saudi Arabia can play a very constructive role in the revival of institutionalized contacts between Taliban, the Kabul government and the US.
Any delay in restarting peace parleys will put in jeopardy the entire scheme of reconciliation and peace for the war-ravaged country
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.