Explainer: How Trump upended US-Taliban peace talks – World

With a series of tweets, President Donald Trump has invested almost a year of negotiations between the United States and the Taliban to end the longest war in the United States.

He "suspended" the talks and claimed that a secret meeting planned between him and the Taliban leaders at Camp David, scheduled for Sunday just a few days before the anniversary of September 11, is now canceled. Some question whether it was an attempt to save the face after the agreement, his envoy said that it had been reached "in principle", faced serious challenges.

The Taliban took half a day to respond, saying that the abrupt decision harmed the credibility of the United States after having "finalized" an agreement, but said the United States would probably return to negotiations. The two sides had still been talking on Saturday, they said, two days after Trump said he had "immediately" suspended the talks.

Here's a look at the momentum for an agreement that Trump had wanted quickly, calling it "ridiculous" that the United States was still in Afghanistan after nearly 18 years and billions of dollars spent.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and hosted Osama bin Laden, say they no longer seek the monopoly of power. But the militant group now controls or dominates approximately half of the country. Many fear that a total withdrawal of some 20,000 NATO troops would leave the weak and corrupt Afghan government vulnerable to collapse, or unleash another round of fighting in a war that has killed tens of thousands.

A deal with few details

Talks between Afghan US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leaders in Qatar, where the insurgent group has a political office, have been so closely watched that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani received the final draft last week. The Afghan government has been set aside because the Taliban refuse to negotiate with what they call an American puppet.

Taliban negotiators have been led by Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the group that was released by Pakistan last year after eight years in prison, apparently at the request of the United States. He is believed to have enough respect to sell a deal to tens of thousands of fighters.

The agreement, once finalized, would begin a withdrawal of US troops with the first 5,000 within 135 days, Khalilzad announced Monday. That would leave 8,600 soldiers training and supporting Afghan forces after their combat function ended in 2014. In return, the Taliban would ensure that Afghanistan is not a launching pad for global terrorist attacks by groups, including a local affiliate of the organization of the Islamic State. and the remains of al Qaeda.

But the problems arose quickly.

Even when Khalilzad explained the deal to the Afghan people during a national televised interview, the Taliban detonated a car bomb that pointed to a foreign complex in Kabul. Ghani's office then raised strong objections, agreeing with several former US ambassadors who warned that a hasty withdrawal without Taliban guarantees to end the violence could lead to a "total civil war."

Far from guaranteeing a ceasefire, the agreement includes only a reduction of violence in Kabul and the neighboring province of Parwan, where the United States has a military base.

Then, on Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded in Kabul and killed 12 people, including a member of the US service, which Trump blamed for his decision to cancel the talks. Khalilzad returned abruptly to Qatar for at least two days of negotiations. The new Taliban statement does not explain what happened next.

More than 2,400 members of the US service have been killed in almost 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and some observers wonder why the last death would derail negotiations between the United States and the Taliban on the verge of an agreement. The Taliban have said the attacks strengthen their negotiating position.

"A difficulty created in announcing that the agreement between the United States and the Taliban was completed before actually announcing the terms of the agreement or being ready to sign is that a space has been created for those who are not happy with it, in Kabul or Washington , to try to modify or interrupt it, "said Laurel Miller, director of Asia at the International Crisis Group, shortly before Trump's announcement.

What happens now

It is not clear. It seems that no one had anticipated a Camp David meeting between Trump and the leaders of an insurgent group that only a few months ago Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as "Taliban terrorists."

On Saturday night, the Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, did not indicate that the process had been derailed, tweeted about possible locations in intra-Afghan talks about the country's political future that should be followed by an agreement between the United States and the Taliban . Those talks were to start on September 23, according to the new Taliban statement.

The Afghan government did not comment directly on Trump's announcement, but repeated his request for an end to the violence. "We have always said that true peace will come when the Taliban stop killing Afghans and implement a ceasefire and begin direct negotiations with the Afghan government," he said in a statement.

That perspective still seems challenging, as Trump's tweets said he planned to meet "separately" with Taliban and Afghan leaders at Camp David.

It is not clear whether the talks will resume because the Taliban will not rely on future agreements that they will negotiate with the US. UU. If they believe that Trump could change the course abruptly, according to the former senior Afghan official, he was not authorized to discuss the issue and only spoke on condition of anonymity. The official, who has had many discussions about the peace process with US and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad's team was not aware of Trump's plans to tweet the end of the talks on Saturday night.

President Ashraf Ghani could now see a clear path to the presidential elections on September 28 that has insisted he must move on. The Taliban have urged Afghans to boycott the vote and said the polling stations would be objective.

Afghans would appreciate any agreement that brings greater security and governance. But many have feared that the United States will settle for an agreement that is broken as soon as the last US soldier leaves. The prospect of a Taliban return has especially concerned Afghan women, who gained new freedoms after 2001 but are still very restricted in the deeply conservative country.

“At the end of the day, this is a bilateral agreement between the United States government and the Taliban. The Afghan government is not a party to it, "said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, before Trump's announcement." This suggests that the Trump administration may reach a point where it decides to sign the agreement, even if he still faces opposition from Kabul. "

But the Trump administration moving away from an agreement is a development that all parties are quick to digest.

Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1504401/explainer-how-trump-upended-us-taliban-peace-talks


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