The Taliban Believe They Hold all the Cards

With peace talks scheduled next month in Turkey, the Taliban are feeling flush. They are already claiming victory as the Afghan government and military are slowly collapsing. Taliban insurgents are slowly and inexorably taking small bases while encroaching more and more into cities with large populations. 

The Taliban have never recognized the Afghan government which they have called a puppet government of the United States. So, if the U.S. administration still believes that the Taliban will enter a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government, it may be sorely disappointed.

As talks proceeded with the Trump administration, the Taliban gave lip service to what Washington proposed, which was to reduce the violence, enter talks with the Afghan government and cut ties to al-Qaeda. But if anyone truly expected the Taliban to abide by these stipulations, they’d be in the minority right about now. The Taliban, as quoted in a recent New York Times article, are trumpeting remarks as if they’ve already won… and perhaps they have. 

Their increasingly arrogant statements such as “we have defeated the enemy,” show that their propaganda machine in full-blown victory mode. Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani said that the group “will crush the arrogance of the rebellious emperors, and force them to admit their defeat at our hands.”

With the U.S. already poised to leave Afghanistan, the announcement by President Joe Biden that “it will be hard” to leave by the May 1 deadline, combined with the comments by U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) commander General Richard Clarke that the Taliban are not honoring the peace agreement with Afghan forces, which still need U.S. help to fight them, isn’t going to move the needle. 

Taliban fighters laying down their arms in 2012 and agreeing to support the Afghan government in Kabul. It would appear that they have picked them back up again. (Photo: Lt. Joe Painter/DoD)

Without the Threat of Continued U.S. Involvement, our Options Are Limited

The Taliban know that even with Washington sticking beyond the withdrawal date, the U.S. has already checked out. They aren’t going to re-commit ground troops and while airstrikes are still effective, there will be fewer of them as time moves on. 

The Taliban have been patient, and while they’ll make noise about the U.S., they know that the quickest way to get the U.S. to turn up the airstrikes would be to attack U.S.-led coalition bases. Thus, they’ll bide their time and prepare for the inevitable American withdrawal. 

The Biden administration is pushing for a coalition government predicated on the Afghan government and the Taliban co-existing and sharing power. The chances of the Taliban agreeing to that seem extremely slim as they feel they’re winning the war on the ground and outmaneuvering the Afghan government politically. As reports come in of Afghan troops abandoning their posts, the tribes looking to the Afghan government to protect them will find the Taliban the better alternative. 

Will the Taliban Agree to a Power-Sharing Agreement With Kabul?

Notions of the Taliban ever agreeing to a power-sharing agreement with the government in Kabul may have always been hopeless. The Taliban see themselves rebuilding an Islamic Emirate in a style that harkens back to the 12th century. They gave shelter and support to the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and then refused to surrender them to the U.S. government. This prompted the U.S. to invade the country and with the assistance of tribes in the Northern Alliance, overthrow them. Fleeing to the border region of Pakistan, they have waged a decades-long guerrilla war within the country costing an untold number of lives, the vast majority of which have been Afghans. To this date, the Taliban maintain connections to al-Qaeda. 

The upcoming meetings in Turkey are a final attempt to create a workable power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and a U.S.-supported government in Kabul. The meetings will be a test of wills, and the Taliban have good reason to believe that their’s is the stronger will.

For the U.S., the status quo ante that a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan represents is chilling as giving the country back to al-Qaeda where it can shelter, gather resources, train, and strike at the U.S. with the support of a Taliban-led national government could lead us back to square one.