The Conflict Studies And Analysis Project(CSAAP} At The Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation(GICS) is proud to publish select papers from our partners at Divergent Options.

This assessment paper was first published at Divergent Options and is reproduced here with permission. The original can be read here.

 

Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst.  She can be found on Twitter @SuzanneSueS57, and on Tumblr.  She is currently working on a long-term project on school poisonings in Afghanistan and has previously written for War on the Rocks.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 

 

National Security Situation:  The war in Afghanistan continues to hurt the Afghan people, Afghan Government, Afghan Taliban (Taliban), and causes the U.S. and its Allies and Partners to expend lives and treasure in pursuit of elusive political objectives. The goal of a defeated Taliban has proven to be outside of the realm of realistic expectations, and pursing this end does not advance American standing.

Date Originally Written:  February 6, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  March 11, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Suzanne Schroeder is an independent analyst. She has a particular interest in the history of the Taliban movement, and how it will continue to evolve.

Background:  As of this writing, talks have begun between the U.S. and the Taliban. What decisions can promote and sustain constructive dialogue?

Significance:  It remains to be seen if, after almost eighteen years in Afghanistan, the U.S. can achieve a “respectable” peace, with a credible method of ensuring long-term security.

Option #1:  The U.S. makes peace with the Taliban, and begins a withdrawal of U.S. forces. 

Risk:  Terrorists with global ambitions will again operate from Afghanistan, without being checked the Afghan Government. In the past two weeks, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker has written two pieces, and was interviewed in a third, warning of the dangers of making a hasty peace deal with the Taliban. In a February 10, 2019 interview for New York magazine, Crocker replied to a question about the chances of the Taliban (if they took power), allowing Afghanistan to be used as a “staging ground, for U.S. attacks.” Crocker replied: “Well, that’s one way to look at it. Another way is that the Taliban decided it would continue to stand with Al Qaeda, even though it cost them the country. They would not break those ties, and I would absolutely not expect them to do so now[1].” In the recently published work, The Taliban Reader, Section 3, which covers the period when the Taliban re-emerged as an insurgency, is introduced with this remark: “In the run-up to Operation Enduring Freedom, opinions among the Taliban leadership were split: some were convinced the US would attack, others-including Mullah Mohammed Omar-did not think the US would go to war over bin Laden[2].” The Taliban Reader essentially challenges Crocker’s assertion, that the Taliban made a conscious decision to lose their Emirate, in defense of Al Qaeda.

Gain:  The gain would be an end to a costly and destructive war that U.S. President Donald Trump has stated is “not in our national interest.” Peace with the Taliban might allow Afghanistan to achieve a greater level of stability through regional cooperation, and a more towards level of self-sufficiency.  This assumes that supportive means are well thought-out, so the war’s end would not be viewed as U.S. abandonment. In the absence of ongoing conflict, civil institutions might develop and contribute to social stability. Obviously, this is a delicate and precarious process, and it cannot be judged, until the participation of the Afghan Government takes place.

In July 2018, Dr. Barnett Rubin, the Director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, appeared on Tolo News to discuss the Eid Ceasefire that had just taken place between the Taliban and Afghan Government forces the previous month. Dr. Rubin made the following statement about the Taliban: “They have acted in reciprocity to the Afghan Government’s offer, which shows that they are part of the Afghan political system, whether they accept its current legal framework or not[3].” Dr. Rubin’s point was that the Taliban, at some juncture, must enter the Afghan system not defined as necessarily entering the Afghan Government per se, but no longer being a party to conflict, and an eventual end to the restrictions that were currently in place would give them a means to full civil participation. 

Negotiations are at an initial stage and will not be fully underway until the Taliban begins to speak to the current Afghan Government. But with the widespread perception that the Afghan government is not viable without continued U.S. support, this means that the Afghan Government will be negotiating from a disadvantaged position. A possible way to overcome this may be for the Taliban to be included in international development initiatives, like the Chabahar Port[4] and the Belt and Road Initiative[5].  With a role that would require constructive participation and is largely non-ideological, former enemies might become stakeholders in future economic development.

Option #2:  The U.S. and Afghan Government continue to apply pressure on the Taliban — in short, “talk and fight.” 

Risk:  This strategy is the ultimate double-edged sword, from the Taliban’s point of view. It’s said that every civilian casualty wins the Taliban a new supporter. But these casualties also cause an increased resentment of Taliban recalcitrance, and stirs anger among segments of the population that may not actively oppose them. The Afghan Peace march, which took place in the summer of 2018, shows the level of war fatigue that motivated a wide range of people to walk for hundreds of miles with a unified sense of purpose. Their marchers four main demands were significant in that they did not contain any fundamental denouncements, specifically directed at the Taliban. Rather, they called for a ceasefire, peace talks, mutually agreed upon laws, and the withdrawal for foreign troops[6] (italics added). With such strong support for an end to this conflict, the U.S., the Afghan Government and the Taliban all damage themselves, by ignoring very profound wishes for peace, shared by a large segment of the Afghan population. The U.S. also recognized taking on a nuclear-armed Pakistan may not be worth it, especially as the conflict in Kashmir has once again accelerated, and it’s unlikely that Pakistan will take measures against the Taliban.

Gain:  U.S. and Afghan forces manage to exert sufficient pressure on the Taliban, to make them admit to the futility of continued conflict. The U.S. manages to construct a narrative that focuses on the complexities of the last thirty years of Afghan history, rather than the shortcomings of U.S. policy in the region.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Hart, B. (2019, February 10). A Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Thinks Trump’s Exit Strategy Is a Huge Mistake. NewYork.

[2] Linschoten, A. S., & Kuehn, F. (2018). The Taliban Reader: War, Islam and Politics in their Own Words. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[3] Tolo News Special Interview with US Expert Barnett Rubin [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEEDrRTlrvY

[4] Afghanistan opens new export route to India through Iran’s Chabahar port – Times of India. (2019, February 24). Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/international-business/afghanistan-launches-new-export-route-to-india-through-irans-chabahar-port/articleshow/68140985.cms

[5] Afghanistan’s Role in the Belt and Road Initiative (Part 1). (2018, October 11). Retrieved from http://www.outlookafghanistan.net/topics.php?post_id=21989

[6] Ali M Latifi for CNN. (2018, June 18). Afghans who marched hundreds of miles for peace arrive in Kabul. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/18/asia/afghanistan-peace-march-intl/index.html

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here