After 11 years of war (more than WW1 & WW2 combined), after the deaths of countless innocents and spending in excess of $640 billion, the worlds most advanced military – the USA, has finally conceded defeat in Afghanistan. The US has accepted it will have to negotiate directly with the Taliban effectivley an admission it has failed to defeat them. On the day security in a number of towns was handed over to Afghan security forces, President Obama announced direct negotiations, he said: “This is an important first step toward reconciliation, although it is a very early step.” The Taliban in a press conference said: “In order to elucidate this policy the Islamic Emirate has deemed it essential to open the political office in the Islamic country of Qatar.”
In Khilafah.com’s annual publication - Strategic Estimate 2013, US-Taliban negotiations was outlined as an important event of 2013:
“After a decade of war the US and her allies have failed miserably in defeating the Taliban and bringing Afghanistan under its authority. The war in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than WW1 and WW2 combined. With the global economic recession, troop drawdown and the Karzai government lacking any influence beyond Kabul 2013 will be an important year for the US as it will need to come to some sort of deal with the Taliban if it wants it wants to maintain a client regime in the country. The problem the US has is the Taliban does not need to negotiate as it’s in a winning position, bleeding America to death. America has enlisted the help of both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for this task and in 2013 progress on US-Taliban negotiations will be critical if the US wants to save face from this failure.”
Negotiations under various guises have been taking place for years. Information about negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban on a political settlement has been circulating since 2008, limited progress was however made. As the US attempted to reorient its position in the country it needed to come to a political settlement with the Taliban in order to secure its long term interests in the country. The US had a real problem in Afghanistan as it struggled to defeat the Taliban, various surges and deals with different tribes failed to deal a fatal blow to the Taliban and it was this position of failure that has lead to the US to call for negotiations with the Taliban.
The first meetings with the Taliban took place between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 2008, although the Taliban viewed these meetings as dinner meetings, they would not have been conducted by either Pakistan or Afghanistan without the permission of the US. Until 2011 negotiations remained informal and were through intermediaries rather than directly. In September 2011 in a message on Eid al-Fitr, the Taliban leader – Mullah Omar claimed that talks were taking place but were not aimed at reaching a political settlement but to secure the release of prisoners. He then went onto justify the negotiations as a legitimate means of trying to establish Islam in Afghanistan. In his Eid message Mullah Omar referred to the Islamic Emirate as a non-state actor with no interest in monopolizing power.
The opening of a Taliban office in Qatar in early 2012 to formalise the negotiations came to an abrupt end in March 2012 as the Taliban did not see the point of talks with the US as it continued to make contradictory moves. This was highlighted by the Taliban official at a Paris meeting in December 2012: “Even now, they state one thing and do another. On the one hand they say that peace must be achieved and on the other, they add new people to the black list; they say that they will leave Afghanistan but sign strategic pacts in false hopes of prolonging their occupation. They are doing this despite being well informed that the Kabul administration can never represent the Afghan people but still bargain with them on the future of the Afghan nation.”
The most important meeting regarding negotiations took place in December 2012 in Paris, the first since March 2012. It was attended by Taliban’s representatives Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar and Dr Muhammad Naeem. The meeting was also attended by Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, members of Afghanistan’s parliament, civil society, political groups that were earlier part of the Northern Alliance and figures who were associated with the government.
This meeting took place after the five-step blueprint, entitled “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015" was put forward by Afghanistan and Pakistan under American auspices in November 2012. It included “confidence building measures” to be taken in the first half of 2013 such as Pakistan facilitating direct contacts between the Taliban and the Afghan government, exploring and agreeing on terms for peace talks and the US, UN and other international partners to support the delisting of identified Taliban and other armed opposition leaders from the UN 1998 Sanctions List. In the latter half of the year, the roadmap outlined a ceasefire. It also looked forward to understandings between the negotiating parties on the inclusion of Taliban and other armed opposition leaders in the power structure in Afghanistan. The blueprint also addressed the elections in 2014, the release of Taliban prisoners (conditional on their agreement to renounce violence) and on the transformation of militant groups to political movements. In essence the plan seeked to lure Taliban and other militant groups into America’s political architecture in Afghanistan in return for the complete renunciation of resistance.
After a year-long lapse in any talks the Taliban has enhanced its position on the battlefield and engaged in political talks with their archrivals the former Northern Alliance. The Qatar office, known officially as ‘The Political Bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Doha,’ was opened leading most recently to the Doha-based officials visiting Iran holding talks with leaders of the republic.
Whilst these talks have been slow and will also move forward slowly it is quite clear the Taliban are the real power in Afghanistan and for the US the current set up in Afghanistan, will not last and is not sustainable. This necessitates negotiations with the real power in the country to shape the country’s political future. Obama admitted to this in the Chicago summit in May 2012: “The Taliban is still a robust enemy, and the gains are still fragile, “But thinks about it. We’ve been there now 10 years. Ten years in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain, not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.” The US will maintain a presence in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. The US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership which went into effect in July 2012 allows the following:
- Access to and use of Afghan facilities by US personnel beyond 2014
- Granting the United States the possibility of keeping forces in Afghanistan after 2014 for purposes of training Afghan forces and targeting al-Qaida
- Non-Commitment by the U.S. to any specific troop levels or funding levels in the future
Despite the Taliban position to never negotiate until all forces are withdrawn this clearly has not been the case. There is in reality no need for the Taliban to negotiate when they are in a winning position in the country and bleeding the US dry. By all accounts, the root and branches of the US-Taliban negotiations seek only to safeguard America's position in the region and by using the Afghan government as well Pakistan as a tool to achieve this. After sacrificing money, blood and life’s the Taliban should remember that the US is only negotiating as it cannot defeat the Taliban. It is in this context the US now wants direct talks as indirect talks through its surrogates have failed since they began in 2008.
Whilst Hamid Karzai attempted to scupper the current negotiations, by withdrawing from the talks this is reality makes little difference to the underlying trend of a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the US. This action was undertaken by Hamid Karzai to shore up his support base, which will be considerably weakened. Direct negotiations between the US and the Taliban undermine Hamid Karzai’s rule as it recognises the Taliban as the effective power in Afghanistan.
The example of the US agreeing to directly negotiate with the Taliban is reminiscent of the intellectually defeated Quraysh offering Mohammad (saw) the riches of the dunya to give up his call. However Mohammad (saw) was clear that for him there would be no compromise and no half measures.
The US war machine is defeated both in Iraq and Afghanistan, its intellectually corrupt democratic ideals hold as much confidence on the streets of Baghdad as they do in Kabul. This is not a time for compromise but to stick stronger to ideas of Islam.
The Taliban must remember that the fight for Afghanistan was something the Ummah supported them in. The Ummah would equally support them in the pursuance of the Khilafah over the false hopes of peace with the Karzai government.
The Taliban should contemplate on Allah (swt) ayah in the Qur’an:
فَلَا تَهِنُوا وَتَدْعُوا إِلَى السَّلْمِ وَأَنْتُمُ الْأَعْلَوْنَ وَاللَّهُ مَعَكُمْ وَلَنْ يَتِرَكُمْ أَعْمَالَكُمْ
"Do not be faint hearted, begging for peace when you are uppermost and Allah is with you and will not waste your efforts." [Muhammad: 35]