US may pull out of the Afghan Peace Process abandoning Taliban

Afghan Taliban Peace Process
File Photo of Taliban negotiations team from the talks in Qatar, Doha

*Afghan Crisis- Critical Update 01*

While the Talibans are so close to signing a deal with US after nine rounds of talks in Doha, Mike Pompeo reportedly declined to put his name on the deal because lack of trust and question on shape of future Afghanistan still prevails. Some officials fear a roll back of civil, human and women’s rights in Afghanistan; a weakening of the national, regional and local governments; the deterioration of anti-Taliban military and law enforcement forces; and a rise in corruption.

As it stands, the agreement would set the stage for the withdrawal of most American forces by the end of November 2020 if the Taliban do three things: open direct negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government; reduce violence near areas U.S. forces control; and keep foreign militants out of the areas they control, according to current and former U.S., Afghan and European officials, who all spoke anonymously to describe the sensitive and fractious deliberations.

The Taliban asked for Pompeo to sign an agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the government founded by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996, four U.S., Afghan and European officials familiar with the discussions told Strategic Cognizance Forum (SCF). Having the Secretary of State sign such a document would amount to de facto recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political entity, and he declined to do so, the Afghan officials say. Pompeo’s office declined to comment before publication of this story. After it was published, Pompeo said through a spokesperson that he might sign if Trump and all parties struck a deal. “There is no agreement to sign yet. If and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump and if the Secretary is the appropriate signatory, he will sign it,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday evening.

There are two alternatives. Khalilzad himself may sign it. Or the U.S. and the Taliban may simply issue a joint statement, supported in turn by the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and a number of other countries, including Japan, Russia and China, two Afghan sources familiar with the deliberations told. 

The talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government are expected to begin in Oslo shortly after a U.S.-Taliban agreement is finalized, officials say. For Afghan officials, or at least the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, it’s a final insult and a dark turning point in relations with Washington. Publicly, Ghani has tentatively, though not officially, embraced the deal. But privately aides told our sources that they have heard shouting matches between Ghani and Khalilzad in Kabul over the last two days, with Khalilzad telling Ghani that he’s got to accept this deal because Afghanistan is losing the war. The disagreements range from the petty to the existential: Afghan-born Khalilzad won’t give a draft of the Taliban agreement to Ghani, the elected Afghan president, and a university classmate of Khalilzad’s, the aides say. Ghani won’t yield on holding Afghan presidential elections that are likely to hand him another five-year term, complicating the nascent Oslo talks with the Taliban. In one of their first meetings, the envoy handed Mr. Ghani a copy of the tightly guarded withdrawal agreement, which the Afghan president spent about an hour studying before handing it back to Mr. Khalilzad. In subsequent discussions presided over by the Mr. Ghani, Mr. Khalilzad has briefed other Afghan officials on the core elements of the agreement without showing them a copy. He keeps a copy in front of him in a folder for reference if the officials raise specific questions during the discussions, according to officials familiar with the briefings.

Some Western officials, however, have privately expressed concerns that Mr. Ghani is trying to push back the signing of any troop-withdrawal deal until after he is assured another term in office, in an election now scheduled for Sept. 28. Rahmatullah Nabil, a former intelligence chief who is one of Mr. Ghani’s challengers, also shares his concerns, saying, criticizing the way the United States has negotiated with the Taliban, said that the complicated mix of two difficult processes — the withdrawal talks and the election — has created deep uncertainty for both.

However, both Khalilzad and Ghani have given some quarter, with Khalilzad publicly conceding that it’s likely too late to cancel the Sept. 28 election, and Ghani agreeing to send a delegation to Oslo to start talks with the Taliban in the last week of September, just before the voting.

Next round of talks between Pakistan, China, US an Taliban are planned from Friday in Islamabad. 

PS: The above write up is based on information appearing in multiple articles on various platforms, especially TIME and NYT. 

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