By Khalid Hussain
It takes no Einstein to figure out Americans want this round of so called peace efforts to fail. After all, that is what has been happening always. This time around, the very choice of Zalmay Khalilzad—notorious oil man with American spy agency linkages—as the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation is an acrimonious individual. He is so universally hated in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that his very presence is a guarantee for the talks to fail!
It is interesting to note Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad the very next day of a letter from President Donald Trump was delivered to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The dialogue with Taliban and the role requested by Trump in his letter to facilitate the same is nothing new. This is what Obama did after withdrawing the American troops in 2014. The only difference is he never wrote a letter.
Zalmay Khalilzad met and conveyed best wishes from President Donald Trump to Prime Minister Imran Khan here in Islamabad. “The US leadership is looking for a peaceful solution to the Afghan peace process and mutual cooperation between the two sides,” media reported Khalilzad telling the PM. Of course, the formal response from PM Imran was, “Pakistan wants a political solution to Afghan peace and reconciliation.” Afghans are pragmatic people when it comes to deal-making.
One can cotton to the fact President Trump hates being slighted. Obama made him the butt of his jokes in his last dinner for the White House correspondents. Thereby he forced Trump’s decision to join the presidential race. He showed Obama to be the joker by winning to become the 45th President of the United States of America.
Since it is not possible for Trump to be humble, his saying Islamabad’s assistance was “fundamental” to the health of the two countries’ strained relationship, has to be a trick statement. Trump is anything but contrite in asking for Pakistan’s help with faltering Afghan peace talks. Nothing can be farther from truth that Trump wants to end the longest American war in history. Trump has requested “Pakistan’s full support” for the US effort to advance the Afghan peace process and for Khalilzad’s trip to the region.
A very cunningly drafted diplomatic trap of a letter “recognizes that Pakistan has the ability to deny the Taliban sanctuary on its territory”. This is insulting Pakistan by repeating his earlier outbursts albeit indirectly and only by inference. He is actually laying down the ground for his next rounds of “blame Pakistan” when he asserts that Pakistan’s assistance with the Afghan peace process is fundamental to building an enduring US-Pakistan partnership”.
Still official allies in the war against terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have a complicated relationship, to say the least. It is important, therefore, to note the foreign office is not very bright in its take on the Trump letter. It’s been claimed Trump asked for Pakistan’s “support and facilitation” in negotiating an end to the war. He has offered the carrot to renew bilateral ties with Pakistan. Washington is not dependent on Pakistan for supplies to its 14,000 troops still in Afghanistan. The letter thus reeks of bad faith and unfounded past accusations Pakistan has been playing a double game.
The US has always been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders and to bring them to the negotiating table. This implies Washington claims the Taliban are based inside Pakistan despite official denials of offering safe havens to the Afghan Taliban. The US has also ignored all Pakistani pleas that their influence on the militant group has waned overtime.
Khalilzad is tasked to push through the peace talks. He has been chasing a deadline of sorts to do a deal by April 2019. He has held many meetings including a three-day meeting in Qatar last month with Taliban leaders but has failed to reach any agreement. He had another round of meetings with the Taliban the month before that as well. This is his third visit for the purpose and he is visiting eight countries including Pakistan, Russia and Qatar.
Last month, Trump said Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the United States despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid. He defended cutting aid to Islamabad and also suggested Pakistani authorities knew Osama bin Laden’s location prior to his killing by US troops in Abbottabad in 2011. Khan hit back by saying the United States should not blame Pakistan for its failings in Afghanistan.
Trump has expressed his desire to bring home the 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan. However, there has been no plan announced besides launching Khalilzad on his so called peace mission. It is not the language you use when you are ending a war because you want the troops back “as part of Resolute Support and a separate counter-terrorism mission aimed against militant groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.” His Defense Secretary Jim Mattis joined him by saying last Monday that the war in Afghanistan had gone on for long enough. “We are looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the subcontinent and across this war in Afghanistan,” Mattis told reporters. “It is time for everyone to get on board.”
Really? Yes, it seems. The foreign office said in a statement that Pakistan was committed to playing “a facilitation role in good faith”.
It is never easy to separate fact from fiction in a war. It is downright impossible to do so in Afghanistan as the narratives are often poles apart and contradictions galore. The state in Afghanistan is a facade established by the United States of America to camouflage the fact of its takeover.
Instead of building the basis for long-term stability and a viable political settlement in Afghanistan, the United States has repeatedly gone for quick fixes. Washington has systematically sponsored individuals who create a certain kind of stability that serves immediate American interests, achieve these outcomes in ways that sow the seeds for future violence and utterly negate the possibility of democratic governance.
The government enjoys considerable dole from the West–America and the rest—cannot help fearing the return of Taliban as a reversal of their own good luck. India too cannot cotton to peace in Afghanistan for history tells it has no diplomatic sway in Kabul whenever conflict is routed out. The relationship between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan has evolved over a complex geopolitical continuum. But in its present iteration, it is the American capture and colonization of Afghanistan that brought India into the game following 9/11. New Delhi has never been this influential in Kabul and Kabul’s strategic value in New Delhi has never been greater. Thus the current bonhomie cannot be taken as a meeting of India and Afghanistan’s interests. Afghanistan today is a proxy for its US masters. India is in Afghanistan as an American ally too.
Afghanistan and its 40-plus international allies led by the Americans appear to have a clear advantage over the Taliban and other armed active groups like the Islamic State. American military now number only 14,000 in total. Afghanistan also has a air force besides full support from American drones, jet bombers and helicopter gunships. According to American military officials, the total number of Taliban is between 20,000 and 40,000 men, though there is no way of ascertaining that to be true or otherwise for it is an estimate that has not changed much in years in the face of Afghanistan official claims that its security forces have been killing nearly a thousand a month. The Afghan security forces and the police receive about $6 billion annually, mostly from America.
President Trump once called the Afghanistan war a total disaster. Yet he has had no difficulty in following the old policy of authorizing talks to prolong the conflict in Afghanistan. That is how Khalilzad started meeting in July with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban have always insisted on negotiating with the Americans alone. It is the Americans who insist on an “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led process.” The Taliban have shown no interest in direct talks with a government they see as illegitimate.
Another election is due in Afghanistan next year. America needs only a window of peace to keep the burlesque theatre of democracy going in the hapless country. This is essential for the American fiction to continue in the region and around the world. During the 2014 presidential elections, ballot distributions were mostly arbitrary, officials replaced election monitors at will, and arrested government officials who backed Ghani’s then-rival and current partner in the national unity government, Abdullah Abdullah. In the run-up to the parliamentary election preparations are marred by the extraordinary crisis that is the fact of Taliban controlling almost half of Afghanistan.
In a country where wide large tracts of territory are not under government control, it is questionable whether elections should be held at all. Surely all the warlords and their sons win for they control the façade of a democratic process in Afghanistan. Afghan elections are incredibly volatile. Since the incumbent has fallen out with the United States, the presidency is up for grabs. This has set off political competition that will further destabilize the war torn country. Fraud is always rampant and scores die in election-related violence. Of course the result will be disputed. Hence the question is not who will win, but whether the crumbling facade of Afghan democracy can withstand yet another electoral catastrophe.
Khalid Hussain is Resident Editor of TLTP – You may contact Khalid Hussain at Resident.Editor@tltpnews.com.pk
The Law Today Pakistan, commonly known as TLTP, is the largest news wire service, headquartered in Islamabad. The service is providing fast, comprehensive and verified news on superior courts adjudications, regulatory framework of fiscal, monitory and external sectors, economic regulatory bodies amid apex institutions regulating the financial system. TLTP is empowering readers of more than 12 national English dailies in the country.