DISPATCHES FROM MOON OF ALABAMA, BY “B”
This article is part of an ongoing series of dispatches from Moon of Alabama
U.S. President Donald Trump said yesterday that a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan is likely. The U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been negotiating with a Taliban delegation in Qatar for over a year and a deal during an election year would be a great political price for Trump.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told NATO allies that the U.S. and the Taliban have agreed “in principle” on a “seven-day reduction in violence” in Afghanistan as a test for an upcoming deal:
Seven days would be “sufficient” to test whether the Taliban was serious about moving toward a peace deal, Esper said.
“But in all things, our approach to this process will be conditions-based,” Esper said. “Let me say it again: conditions-based. So it will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward, if we go forward.”
Esper declined to comment on whether the U.S. would cease counterterrorism operations during any period of reduced violence, saying talks were ongoing.
Little is known of what a peace deal would look like.
The Taliban have insisted that all foreign troops have to leave Afghanistan. The U.S. insists to keep a ‘counter terrorism force’ in the country.
How could these position ever align?
There is also the small issue of the U.S. supported government in Kabul which so far has not taken part in any negotiations. If the U.S. stops fighting the Taliban Kabul would soon be in their hands. All the grifter who got rich by defrauding the occupation forces would lose their income. It is hard to see how the nominal government of Afghanistan could agree to make nice with the Taliban.
But some deal is in the making and Time now claims to have secret annexes of the U.S.-Taliban agreement that might explain what is happening:
The Taliban has agreed to a seven-day “reduction in violence” to show that it’s serious. But, crucially, its leaders will not agree in public to the U.S. demand to keep counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.
To get past that roadblock, Khalilzad has come up with a rickety workaround. The deal contains secret annexes, according to three people familiar with details of the current draft. The first is an agreement for U.S. counterterrorism forces to stay in the country. The second is a Taliban denouncement of terrorism and violent extremism. The third annex contains a mechanism to monitor whether all sides are honoring the semi-truce while talks between warring Afghan parties proceed, according to two of the sources, and the last addresses how the CIA will operate in future in Taliban-controlled areas.
Details of the secret annexes were provided in writing to TIME by one of the sources, who insisted on anonymity to disclose details of the confidential talks. A U.S. lawmaker and two Afghan officials confirmed that a long-term counterterrorism force numbering 8,600 U.S. troops, down from the current 13,000, is part of the deal. The State Department and Khalilzad’s office declined to comment, as did the CIA. Khalilzad declined to be interviewed for this article. A Taliban official insisted Thursday that the deal requires a full U.S. troop withdrawal and said that talk of secret annexes were just rumors.
If a 8.600 strong U.S. force stays in Afghanistan it will be there for all to see. If the Taliban make peace and the troops stay it will be known to everyone that they have broken their principles and agreed to it. A ‘secret’ deal makes therefore little sense.
But let us assume for a moment that the Time story is true. What price did the U.S. offer to get such a deal?
The only thing the Taliban would probably see as a sufficient price is the power in Kabul. Could the U.S. hand them the control over the Afghan government? It might be willing to do so because the current Afghan government is a bunch of quarreling clowns and thieves who get little done. The Taliban are probably the only force that could end the government’s chronic corruption. Both sides might -in principal – benefit from it.
But such a new ‘partnership’ between the Taliban and the U.S. would have larger implications. A permanent U.S. force would not be in Afghanistan for ‘counterterrorism’ but to keep an eye on Pakistan, Iran, China and Central Asia.
The Pakistani military has a long leash control over the Taliban. It is possible that it would agree to some short term U.S. stay. There are some signs that the U.S. is currently doing favorsto Pakistan by knocking out Pakistani militants who hide in Afghanistan:
Over the last week, several senior members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been killed in Afghanistan. However, it’s not only the Pakistani Taliban that has suffered heavy losses. A senior member of the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), a militant organization known for targeting Pakistan’s interests, was also killed in Iran a few days ago.
The deaths of the Pakistani Taliban and BRA members comes at a time when the United States and the Afghan Taliban are on the cusp of signing a peace agreement in Afghanistan.
The deaths of several anti-Pakistan militant leaders in Afghanistan and Iran are reflective of several previous such developments where Pakistan’s push to assist Washington in Afghanistan was rewarded with an action against groups that Pakistan considers an enemy.
But the elimination of some militants is not a long term strategic price. Pakistan depends economically on its relations with China. It is doubtful that Beijing would react kindly to a Pakistani deal that allows for a permanent U.S. force in Afghanistan. To make a long term deal with the U.S. Pakistan must be able to replace China. It would need U.S. guarantees for a large amount for economic aid over a long period that could replace what is currently coming from China.
Then there is Iran. During the last months Iran has held several talks with Taliban leaders. After the U.S. murder of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani Iran has launched a campaign to remove all U.S. forces from the Middle East. This includes the forces in Afghanistan. Iran would not agree to permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Iran officials do not believe that the U.S. will really make a peace deal with the Taliban.
If a U.S.-Taliban deal includes a permanent U.S. force it would put the Taliban back into the anti-Iranian camp. They U.S. would certainly like that but Iran would certainly make its disagreement known by again supporting potential anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The Shia Afghan fighters who fought with Liwa Fatemiyoun under Iranian command in Syria, and who have now returned to Afghanistan, give Iran a potentially serious force. There is also the former ‘Northern Alliance’ which would again fight against a Taliban government in Kabul. Twenty years ago Iran supported it with weapons and money. It could again do so.
A permanent U.S. force in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan seems to require too many strategic changes to be a viable concept.
My hunch is that the Taliban agreed to allow U.S. troops to stay during some kind of ceasefire and while their upcoming talks with the Afghan government are ongoing. But a permanent Taliban agreement for U.S. troops to stay, which the U.S. will want, is a very unlikely concept.
Did the U.S. envoy Khalilzad make that up to give Trump a short term ‘peace deal’ and a boost for his re-election?
Posted by b on February 14, 2020 at 17:38 UTC | Permalink
^5000The arch-hypocritical corporate media are our worst enemies.
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They are shills for those who murder the environment with impunity.
It's time you embrace YOUR media, the citizens' press.
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