Two bad options: On U.S. push for Afghan unity government with Taliban

Afghanistan’s leaders have to choose between war and sharing power with Taliban

March 13, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:55 am IST

President Joe Biden’s push for an interim unity government in Afghanistan is a testament to his administration’s grim assessment of the situation in the war-torn country. In a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which was first published by Afghanistan’s TOLOnews, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has proposed a senior-level meeting between the government and the Taliban in Turkey and a multilateral conference of envoys from the U.S., Russia, China, Iran, India and Pakistan to discuss a lasting Afghan solution. The peace push comes at a time when the Biden administration is reviewing the U.S.’s Afghan strategy. According to the February 2020 agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban , the U.S. is scheduled to withdraw its troops by May 1. The Taliban have warned they would step up fighting targeting the coalition troops should the U.S. fail to pull out by then. The Biden administration is understandably under pressure. There appears to be a consensus in Washington that there is no military solution to the crisis. The U.S. wants to get out of the longest war in its history. But as Mr. Blinken says in the letter, the U.S. worries that if its troops are out without a peace mechanism, the Taliban, which already controls much of the country’s hinterlands, could make “rapid territorial gains”.

The U.S. seeks to stop this happening by proposing an interim “inclusive” government between the warring parties. Further, both sides should hold talks on the future constitutional and governance framework. Regional powers, including India and Pakistan, could play a decisive role in this transition as part of a UN-mandated multiparty peace process. This is a more inclusive approach than what the Trump administration did. Under Mr. Trump, the U.S. held direct talks with the Taliban excluding the Afghan government. And after reaching a deal, the U.S. put pressure on the Afghan government to release prisoners, but failed to get any concessions from the insurgents on reducing violence. Even when Afghan government representatives and the Taliban were holding talks in Doha, Qatar, Afghanistan continued to witness violence. The Biden administration does not seem to have faith in the Doha talks, which, even after months, failed to achieve any breakthrough. After 20 years of war, the Afghan leadership does not have any good options to end the conflict. If the Biden administration decides to stick to the Taliban deal and pull back troops, there is no guarantee that the intra-Afghan talks would hold. The Taliban would rather try to take over the whole country using force. If the government accepts Mr. Biden’s proposal, Afghanistan’s elected leaders will have to share power with the Taliban and agree to amending the Constitution, which means some of the country’s hard-won liberties could be sacrificed. It is a choice between two bad options.

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