Will Tal­iban talks re­peat ‘peace with honor’ of Viet­nam?

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | OPINION -

The rough draft of an Afghanistan peace deal faintly traces the dark path that the United States fol­lowed when it left the Viet­nam War.

In 1973, a “peace with honor” ac­cord al­lowed North Viet­namese troops to stay in the south as U.S. forces with­drew. Hanoi agreed to a cease-fire and no takeover of the south by force. South Viet­nam was frozen out of ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­luc­tantly signed the agree­ment.

“Sooner or later, the gov­ern­ment will crum­ble,” South Viet­namese Pres­i­dent Nguyen Van Thieu pre­dicted. Saigon fell in 1975.

Nearly half a cen­tury later, Amer­i­can and Tal­iban ne­go­tia­tors have agreed in prin­ci­ple to a peace frame­work in which U.S. troops leave Afghanistan and the Tal­iban prom­ise to never again al­low ter­ror­ists to at­tack the United States from their ter­ri­tory as hap­pened on Sept. 11, 2001.

In other par­al­lels to the past, Amer­ica is seek­ing a cease-fire and Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani has been frozen out of the talks. Last year, he told 60 Min­utes, “We will not be able to sup­port our army for six months with­out U.S. sup­port.”

Chief Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tor Zal­may Khalilzad said Fri­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is seek­ing an “hon­or­able and just peace.” And in last week’s State of the Union mes­sage, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump spoke elo­quently of end­ing Amer­ica’s in­volve­ment in the con­flict in Afghanistan.

“Af­ter two decades of war,” he said, “the hour has come to at least try for peace, and the other side would like to do the same thing. It’s time.”

That’s a wel­come mes­sage. If only the mes­sen­ger — and the Tal­iban — could be trusted.

Trump in two years has dis­played a vex­ing pat­tern of hasty give­aways in the face of con­flict:

❚ He agreed to a U.S. Em­bassy in Jerusalem with­out Mid­dle East peace con­ces­sions from Is­rael.

❚ He an­nounced a with­drawal from Syria af­ter a pre­ma­ture dec­la­ra­tion of vic­tory over the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group.

❚ He granted the North Korean dic­ta­tor the pres­tige of a pres­i­den­tial sum­mit with­out con­crete steps to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

❚ And as Tal­iban talks loomed, Trump, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, said he was al­ready will­ing to pull out half of the 14,000 U.S. troops de­ployed to Afghanistan.

More ne­go­ti­a­tions are planned for this month. But so far, the peace “frame­work” for Afghanistan looks very different from ac­cords that truly brought peace. Those have al­most al­ways in­volved in­sur­gents trad­ing weapons for po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment — as hap­pened in Mozam­bique and El Sal­vador in 1992, North­ern Ire­land in 1998 and Colom­bia in 2016.

There’s no word of the Tal­iban agree­ing to dis­arm.

The Afghanistan War is the long­est in U.S. his­tory and a stale­mate. As of the end of October, 63.5 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion lived in areas un­der Afghan gov­ern­ment con­trol or in­flu­ence, down 1.7 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous quar­ter. Con­tested areas have in­creased.

U.S. troops killed in ac­tion, al­ways tragic, have been few com­pared with pre­vi­ous years — seven in the three months end­ing Jan. 15.

But Afghan se­cu­rity losses — roughly 30 dead per day — ap­pear un­sus­tain­able. The Tal­iban forces have also suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties, which might be a fac­tor in their will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate peace.

Af­ter nearly two decades of war, it is surely time for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Afghanistan. Nev­er­the­less, the talks have to be more than a fig leaf for the with­drawal of U.S. troops. The Afghan gov­ern­ment must be brought into ne­go­ti­a­tions. The rights of girls and women must be be pro­tected. Hos­til­i­ties must cease.

Any ac­cord that paves the way for the Tal­iban to re­claim con­trol in Kabul, pro­vide sanc­tu­ary for anti-U.S. ter­ror­ists and re­verse women’s rights would be nei­ther hon­or­able nor just.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AP

U.S. en­voy Zal­may Khalilzad dis­cusses Afghanistan ne­go­ti­a­tions on Fri­day at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace in Wash­ing­ton.

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