By Dai He
KABUL, Aug. 9 (ChinaMil) – Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive, confirmed Monday that the United States has recently sent representatives to hold the first direct talks with representatives of the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
Analysts believe that the United States has long refused to hold direct talks with the Taliban and has advocated that the dialogues concerning the Afghan peace process must involve the Afghan government.
Therefore, the direct dialogue between the two sides marks a change in the US strategy towards Afghanistan. This dialogue is conducive to encouraging the Taliban to start peace talks with the Afghan government, but the peace process in Afghanistan still has a long way to go.
A change in attitude
At the cabinet meeting on August 6, Abdullah said that the Afghan government “is aware” of the recent talks between the Taliban and the US, and the goal of the dialogue between the two sides was to “pave way” for the Afghan government and the Taliban to finally return to the negotiating table.
According to the US media, Alice G. Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the US Department of State, led a delegation to Doha to hold a series of talks with Taliban representatives in late July. The report said that although the US officials did not make the news public, they did not deny it either.
Analysts believe that the United States has changed its attitude towards talks with the Taliban for the following reasons:
First, the United States has been trapped in the Afghan war quagmire for 17 years and needs to re-examine its policy toward Afghanistan. The Washington Post, a major American daily newspaper, recently reported that the protracted war has caused huge expensesto the US, who spends an annual average of $45 billion on Afghanistan’s security and economic assistance, twice the amount of Afghanistan’s GDP.
Second, the Trump administration’s new strategy has had little effect and it needs to find new breakthroughs on the Afghan issue. In August 2017, after the Trump administration announced its new strategy for Afghanistan, the United States increased its troop numbers in Afghanistan to launch more offensives against the Taliban. However, the new strategy was not effective in curbing the Taliban, nor did it force the Taliban to agree on negotiations with the Afghan government. On the contrary, the Taliban have not budged on their demand for direct talks with the US.
A long way to go
According to sources in Afghanistan, during the talks, the Taliban demanded that the United States withdraw its troops and end sanctions against the Taliban leaders, while the US side hoped to retain the troops and called on the Taliban to stop military operations and join the Afghan peace process.
The two sides also discussed the possibility of a ceasefire between the Taliban and the government during the Eid al-Adha.
Analysts point out that although the Taliban may have a temporary ceasefire with the Afghan government, the security situation in Afghanistan is difficult to reverse in the short term. At present, Afghanistan faces multiple security threats, asthe extremist group “Islamic State” poses even greater threats than the Taliban in some northern parts of the country.
The Ariana News of Afghanistan quoted the Minister of National Defense Tariq Shah Bahrami on August 2, saying that the Afghan government plans to reach a short-term ceasefire with the Taliban in the near future with the ultimate goal of achieving lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Analysts point out that the United States should focus more on promoting political negotiations since the Afghan issue cannot be resolved by military means. An Afghan political analyst said that in the long run, direct talks between the US and the Taliban could become a turning point in the Afghan peace process.
The Afghan peace process should follow the principle of “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” and the Afghan government has always emphasized that its allies, including the United States, can only play a supporting role. In February of this year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani expressed his willingness to talk with the Taliban, but the latter responded coldly.
Analysts believe that the direct talks between the United States and the Taliban will promote the dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, the effects of the direct talks remain to be tested, and the peace process in Afghanistan still has a long way to go.
Disclaimer: The author is Dai He. The article was published on the PLA Daily on August 9. It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online.