Will Taliban talks repeat ‘peace with honor’ of Vietnam?
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.
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad discusses Afghanistan negotiations on Friday at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington.