The pres­i­dent’s good call on Afghan ne­go­ti­a­tions The United States doesn’t need an agree­ment with the Tal­iban that badly and nei­ther does Afghanista­n

The Washington Times Weekly - - Civility Can Restore Our Institutio­ns - By Gary An­der­son

Pres­i­dent Trump made a good call in can­celling a meet­ing in which he was sched­uled to host a face-to-face ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween the Afghan pres­i­dent and Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Al­though end­ing over­seas wars was a cam­paign prom­ise for a pres­i­dent who tries hard to keep his prom­ises, end­ing the war in Afghanista­n is a “nice to have” for most Amer­i­can vot­ers, in­clud­ing Mr. Trump’s Repub­li­can base. If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had con­tin­ued the talks af­ter the re­cent Tal­iban at­tack that killed an Amer­i­can sol­dier, it would have been con­strued as Amer­i­can weak­ness and over-ea­ger­ness for an agree­ment by the in­sur­gents and our Afghan al­lies as well. We don’t need an agree­ment that badly, and nei­ther does the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

It is true that the Afghan gov­ern­ment has lost ground to the Tal­iban since Amer­i­can com­bat op­er­a­tions ceased, but the sit­u­a­tion has set­tled into a stale­mate that nei­ther side has been able to break, and that is not a good thing for the Tal­iban. That is par­tic­u­larly true since they have failed to take a ma­jor city. The re­cent failed of­fen­sive to take the city of Kan­duz was a ma­jor de­feat for the Tal­iban as the winter lull in fight­ing ap­proaches.

Worse for the Tal­iban, the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Kabul is con­fi­dent enough in its stand­ing with the elec­torate to con­tinue with planned elec­tions. Dis­rupt­ing the elec­toral process and dele­git­imiz­ing a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment is a must for any in­sur­gent move­ment. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for the Tal­iban, which is a coali­tion of a num­ber of dis­parate groups. The fail­ure to show progress will hurt both recruiting and fund rais­ing as the winter ap­proaches. This is par­tic­u­larly true con­sid­er­ing the fact that the Tal­iban are fight­ing two wars; the one against the gov­ern­ment may be stale­mated, but the Tal­iban is steadily los­ing ground to the Is­lamic State’s Afghan fran­chise, which is com­pet­ing with the old school Tal­iban in­sur­gency for re­cruits.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment doesn’t need a truce or even a cease fire. It has prob­lems with cor­rup­tion, and the armed forces still need mas­sive in­fluxes of for­eign aid and mil­i­tary ad­vice, but it re­tains the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity of Afghan ci­ti­zens,

par­tic­u­larly those in heav­ily pop­u­lated ar­eas. These vot­ers have seen life un­der the Tal­iban and have no de­sire to see a re­turn to Is­lamist rule.

No one thinks that any ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment will end the war. The Tal­iban ob­vi­ously hope that an Amer­i­can with­drawal will dis­hearten the gov­ern­ment enough to give them a fight­ing edge and per­haps al­low them time to deal with the Is­lamic State threat be­hind Tal­iban lines. How­ever, a to­tal Amer­i­can with­drawal would take away the pri­mary ar­gu­ment for the Tal­iban’s ex­is­tence which is to rid the na­tion of for­eign “oc­cu­pa­tion.” Per­haps the Tal­iban can claim that the Is­lamic State fight­ers are a for­eign pres­ence, but the Kabul gov­ern­ment will be able to make the same ar­gu­ment. There is a real dan­ger that peo­ple in the Tal­iban-oc­cu­pied ar­eas of Afghanista­n will start ask­ing, what are these guys fight­ing about?”

Things brings us to the Amer­i­can po­si­tion go­ing for­ward. Pres­i­dent Trump would ob­vi­ously like to have the war end on his watch, but the only way Afghanista­n can hurt him in 2020 is if we leave and the Kabul gov­ern­ment col­lapses; that is not likely to hap­pen. How­ever, Mr. Trump’s best strat­egy is to fa­cil­i­tate a deal that will get a truce while en­sur­ing some kind of coun­tert­er­ror­ist pres­ence that will en­sure that the Is­lamic State can­not use Afghanista­n as a base for an­tiWestern at­tacks.

As is the case with ne­go­ti­a­tions Gary An­der­son is a re­tired Marine Corps colonel who served as a civil­ian ad­viser in Iraq and Afghanista­n. He lec­tures in Al­ter­na­tive Anal­y­sis at the George Washington Univer­sity’s El­liott School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.


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