The eighth round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban concluded this week with no clear outcome or deal to secure peace. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalizad, upon the conclusion of the latest round of talks, claimed that the discussions, which centered around “technical details” were productive. A Taliban spokesman had also suggested before the eight round began that a deal was imminent. However, there are reasons to be skeptical. The Taliban’s chief negotiator stated in April that the United States is on the “verge of defeat,” and confidently claimed that U.S. troops would soon withdraw either by choice or by force.
The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at securing a peace deal before the Afghan presidential election on September 28. The American public’s opinion of the 18 year-long war has been divided. U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has come with a price tag of over one trillion dollars and the deployment of thousands of troops. Most opposition to the war seems to be based on the notion that in so far as the U.S. has been involved, the U.S. has failed to diminish the authority and violent activities of the Taliban, pointing to the expansion of Taliban controlled territory and a rising number of civilian deaths.
However, with the exception of a few excursions targeting Taliban officials and terrorist activities, the central purpose of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has currently been to equip the Afghan government and military with the training to take control of its own security and defense, an ability which it previously lacked. For the past several years, the Afghan National Army has been “on the front line” battling the Taliban. Unlike the earlier years of the war, the Taliban now no longer has a stranglehold on central transportation and urban areas, and in the few times that it has been able to control major cities, it has only been able to do so for an extremely short time.
Now, whether or not the Taliban discussions are the means by which the U.S. will maintain its strategic interests and support the Afghan government is a separate question from whether or not the U.S. ought to immediately pull out. Some consider the negotiations themselves to be futile and do not foresee the Taliban making any genuine concessions. If these discussions are to continue, there need to be clear boundaries set by the U.S. The Taliban must not allow other terrorist groups to take refuge in the territory it occupies. And the Afghan government cannot be excluded from an agreement, as to do so would affirm the Taliban’s de-legitimization of the Afghan Government and would undermine their trust.
So far, in the eight rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, the Afghan government, considered by the Taliban to be a puppet of the U.S., has not been included, per the demand of the Taliban. Afghan President Ashram Ghani expressed disapproval of the Afghan government’s exclusion, saying “Our future cannot be decided outside…We don’t want anyone to intervene in our affairs.” Meanwhile, the Taliban has insisted that an intra-Afghan discussion will only take place after a resolution between the U.S. and the Taliban.
As the discussions continue, the U.S. ought to remain weary of legitimizing the Taliban by making drastic concessions. Additionally, promises made by the Taliban must be demonstrated through actions, as a simple written agreement would require a level of trust which simply cannot exist with any given terrorist organization—this is especially true given that throughout the duration of the Doha talks, the Taliban has continued to routinely carry out attacks in Afghanistan, killing innocent Afghan citizens, U.S. military personnel, and humanitarian workers. It is hard to foresee the Taliban coming to any agreement that doesn’t include the U.S. quickly pulling out troops, but one thing is for sure, a hasty withdrawal is not the answer.