The Taliban just announced the cancellation of its planned peace talks with the US in Qatar. Before this happened, America rightly felt like it was losing control over the incipient peace process in Afghanistan after Russia adopted the long-standing Pakistani position a few years ago that the only realistic solution to the war is to talk with the Taliban as a legitimate political party to the conflict, following which the group was hosted in the Russian capital late last year during a dramatic event that symbolically heralded a new chapter in this South Asian saga. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad shortly thereafter set out for a whirlwind tour of the larger region and declared his country’s intent to restart the peace process that it had hitherto suppressed and inadvertently isolated itself from. Regrettably, the differences between the US and the Taliban are apparently still too acute, which is why the group just announced that it cancelled the planned talks that were supposed to have been held in Qatar earlier this week. The Taliban wants the US to completely withdraw from Afghanistan as part of a peace deal and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Kabul government, while the US is unlikely to leave the country without at least replacing its troops with mercenaries and seems intent on having the group become part of a so-called “transitional government”. The timing of the talks and their abrupt cancellation take on an urgent importance because of the upcoming national elections later this year. Trump would have scored domestic political points if his government cut a deal with the Taliban to ensure that the vote goes off without a hitch, even if the US had to “concede” a bit by recognizing the group as a legitimate political party. From the Taliban’s perspective, it can be argued that temporarily “conceding” to run in Kabul-organized national elections or at least not obstruct them might have been worth it if the US proved its goodwill either right beforehand or shortly afterwards by drastically reducing its troop presence in the country. At the same time, however, so-called “hawks” on both sides might have been unhappy with this prospective deal and sought to undermine it.
Trump didn’t really lose much by this happening because he can just continue portraying himself as a victim of unlucky circumstances and conspiracies, while Afghanistan will probably return back to the status quo of fratricidal violence. The Taliban, however, might bifurcate into so-called “moderate” and “hardliner” factions, with Pakistan potentially being blamed if some members defect to Daesh as a result, thus explaining why Islamabad sincerely did all that it could to keep the talks alive. Having said all of that, the public obviously isn’t privy to all the ins and outs of what happened and why, meaning that it’s still too early to rule out the resumption of peace talks sometime in the near future.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review