There was always something in the way that US President Donald Trump declared the Afghan peace talks dead that betrayed frustration and made the whole process ring somewhat hollow. In fact the negotiations had been heading nowhere, from the American point of view, for a long time. The Taliban’s advances on the ground enabled them to gain control of the talks as well, and all they eventually accomplished was giving the whole world a clear understanding of just how desperate the American position had become, besides thrusting the militants back to centre stage. For all their victories the Taliban could never have re-taken Kabul. Now the Americans made that possible through a deal.
Worse, the Americans completely sidelined the central government in Kabul. That, too, was because the Taliban refused to recognise it, raising doubts about the legitimacy of the exercise. Finally, with the insurgents not budging on too many of America’s demands, while having most of theirs accepted, it was only a matter of time before Trump got fed up with the whole thing.
But it’s not something that can be left as it is. Behind the whole push for peace were the twin facts that one, the Americans had to get out as soon as possible, preferably before their next presidential election and two, the Taliban were clearly winning and making everybody else look silly, and defeated, anyway.
And let’s not forget how important this peace process was for Pakistan. It was Pakistan’s alleged lack of commitment that made the American Afghan effort go waste, wasn’t it? And that was why President Trump pulled the plug on Pakistan’s funding, wasn’t it. And, all said and done, it was Pakistan’s leverage over the Taliban, at a time when the Americans needed to talk to them, that restored normalcy to the Pak-American relationship.
So it’s not surprising that Islamabad is still trying to get American and Taliban representatives to talk. But their latest smart idea, if sections of the press are to be believed, is for the Taliban to declare an unannounced ceasefire. Reportedly, the Americans like the idea. But, dare we ask, how long before everybody realises that such an arrangement solves none of the problems that broke down the talks in the first place? And what, after the ceasefire that is never announced comes into force, before the Taliban demand an end to the present constitution and formation of an interim government once again?
In fact the Afghan problem has become too complicated to be solved through simple talks. To make any form on real progress, though, the Americans will have to admit they have lost, and engineer a withdrawal accordingly.