Reports have been coming in of in-person discussions between U.S. officials and the Taliban. These talks have been in the works for a while now — the Taliban has historically said they would not talk peace with anyone but the United States. They see the Afghan government as a “puppet” government, and therefore not worth their interaction, not when it comes to permanent peace talks anyway. The United States has not often been interested in directly brokering a peace deal with the Taliban, and such discussions in the past have failed.
The talks apparently occurred in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban hold a political office. The meetings were held between certain Taliban officials and Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. Details regarding this discussion have not been entirely released, and the general impression is that these talks are exploratory — before anyone can cross a bridge and say anything of substance, first one must make sure the bridge can hold weight. These negotiations will likely take time.
Why now? Why would the United States be more interested in peace talks than before? How might this differ from the talks that failed in 2015?
U.S. officials have a host of concerns in regards to the future of Afghanistan. The first is the most apparent, and what many people wind up talking about: the fate of the country and the people in it. At this point, the U.S. can still seize any part of Afghanistan if it really sees fit. Even the areas that are under Taliban control are only there as the United States has scaled back their offensive efforts. If the U.S. were to, hypothetically, pull out now, it’s highly unlikely that the Afghan government could hold its own. The country would most likely go under.
Some people say that the Afghan government had its chance and that we ought to pull out anyway, for the sakes of our troops and to prevent needless deaths in America’s longest war in history. Others see the country as — for better or worse — our responsibility once we decided to stay longer than the initial offensive and to shirk that responsibility would be un-American. Most people understand that it’s a complex situation and easy answers aren’t going to be good for anyone.
Regardless of opinions, there is another, very important aspect to consider on top of the general well-being of Afghanistan, and it is something U.S. officials are no doubt concerned with. Should the U.S. withdrawal immediately and the country go into further ruin, we might not be dealing with a Taliban dictatorship that takes over the country and rules using the iron fist of Sharia law, relatively unconcerned with the outside world. The Taliban themselves may desire to achieve these goals, but it’s more likely that a power vacuum will draw multiple contenders to the field. The Taliban could even fracture into various groups, ISIS-K could continue to bolster their presence there, and countless new terrorist organizations may arise — and they may not remain domestic.
A primary concern is that a place like Afghanistan could potentially be used as a hotbed for breeding international terrorist organizations. Islamic extremist groups are desperately searching for locations just like Afghanistan (well, one without NATO forces), turbulent and without definitive leadership.
In short: a destabilized Afghanistan not only presents a threat to its own people but to the international community as well.
However, if the U.S. could broker some sort of peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government — so long as the two of them can stay whole — the country could remain relatively stable, and would probably unite in their fight against ISIS. But these sorts of peace agreements are fragile — if they can even be instated in the first place. Time will tell.
Featured image: Taliban fighters ride in their vehicle in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 16, 2018. A suicide bomber blew himself up in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday as mostly Taliban fighters gathered to celebrate a three-day cease-fire marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, killing 21 people and wounding another 41, said the Nangarhar provincial Police Chief Ghulam Sanayee Stanikzai. Most of the dead and wounded were believed to be Taliban, he said. | AP Photo/Rahmat Gal