OPINION

Belated realisation

In a dramatic set of posts on Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the cessation of peace negotiations with the Taliban while also revealing that the insurgent group’s representatives were to have participated in secret talks at the Camp David retreat in Maryland. This is yet another instance of the stock that the maverick President puts in personal diplomacy in the conduct of America’s foreign affairs. His tweets abruptly seem to have indicated the end, at least for now, to the negotiations conducted by the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Taliban. Mr. Khalilzad had disclosed that he had reached an “in principle” agreement with the Taliban, but the details have not been revealed. The negotiations were over U.S. troop withdrawal from the country and assurances from the Taliban of not letting the country to be used as a safe haven for terrorists targeting the U.S. Mr. Trump said that a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on Thursday was the trigger for his sudden decision. But the Taliban has been continually engaging in a series of wanton attacks against civilians throughout the course of the talks that the U.S. had with the group in Qatar. One estimate suggests that it has engaged in 173 terror attacks resulting in 1,339 fatalities in 2019 alone. The Taliban has perversely used the attacks as a bargaining chip of sorts, to undermine the Afghanistan government and to seek concessions on its own terms. It is not clear why Mr. Trump chose this moment to call off talks as little has changed in the Taliban’s behaviour. What all this ambiguity reveals is Mr. Trump’s erratic nature.

Afghanistan has continued to be wracked by internecine violence, with the Taliban increasing its control over several provinces and the government’s writ prevailing only in the north-central parts of the country. A durable peace, with the U.S. seeking early troop withdrawal, is only possible if there are talks between all Afghan groups and other regional stakeholders, with a guarantee by the Taliban that it will eschew terror. But the Taliban has refused to engage with the Afghan government and the U.S.’s decision to delink the violence from the Doha talks only seemed to have emboldened the group. Mr. Trump must reveal the contents of the so-called “in principle” agreement and set more meaningful terms of engagement involving the Afghan regime in any further talks with the Taliban. It serves neither the U.S.’s own interests, as Mr. Trump seems to have belatedly realised, nor those of the beleaguered Afghan people if the Taliban is allowed to get away with repeated murder.

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