Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt / The New York Times & World Beyond War – 2018-07-17 01:00:10
White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks
To Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations
Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt / The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan (July 15, 2018) — The Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, a significant shift in American policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war.
The Taliban have long said they will first discuss peace only with the Americans, who toppled their regime in Afghanistan in 2001. But the United States has mostly insisted that the Afghan government must take part.
The recent strategy shift, which was confirmed by several senior American and Afghan officials, is intended to bring those two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war.
The shift to prioritize initial American talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” process stems from a realization by both Afghan and American officials that President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains.
While no date for any talks has been set, and the effort could still be derailed, the willingness of the United States to pursue direct talks is an indication of the sense of urgency in the administration to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.
Not long after he took office, Mr. Trump reluctantly agreed to provide more resources to his field commanders fighting the Taliban, adding a few thousand troops to bring the American total to about 15,000. But a year later the insurgent group continues to threaten Afghan districts and cities and inflict heavy casualties on the country’s security forces.
The government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, and the Taliban 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested, according the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which was created by Congress to monitor progress in the country.
Providing more authority to American diplomats, a move that was decided on last month by Mr. Trump’s national security aides, is seen as part of a wider push to inject new momentum into efforts to end the war. Those efforts include a rare cease-fire last month, increased American pressure on Pakistan to stop providing sanctuary to Taliban leaders and a rallying of Islamic nations against the insurgency’s ideology. Grassroots peace movements in the region have also increased pressure on all sides.
Over the past few weeks senior American officials have flown to Afghanistan and Pakistan to lay the groundwork for direct United States-Taliban talks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefly visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, last week, and Alice G. Wells, the top diplomat for the region, spent several days holding talks with major players in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Efforts have particularly focused on trying to persuade the Afghan leadership that such talks are not a replacement for negotiations with the country’s coalition government, but are meant to break the ice and pave the way for those. Because the previous Afghan government felt left out of peace efforts during the Obama administration, it resisted direct talks, which was one reason peace efforts at that time collapsed.
Neither the State Department nor a Taliban spokesman would comment on the shift of policy toward engaging the Taliban directly.
Ms. Wells, during her trip to Kabul, reported a new “energy and impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated settlement,” largely as a result of the cease-fire. Days earlier, Mr. Pompeo, in a statement, said that there would be no precondition for talks — and that everything, including the presence of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, was up for discussion.
“I think Secretary Pompeo was very clear — we are prepared to facilitate, to support, to participate in — so there is nothing that precludes us from engaging with the Taliban in that fashion,” Ms. Wells said. “What we are not prepared to do is at the exclusion of the Afghan government — that is the critical difference.”
“We are doing everything we can,” she added, “to ensure that our actions help the Taliban and the Afghan government to the same table.”
With the focus now just on getting negotiations started, it is too early to assess what a final deal acceptable to both sides might look like.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said last month at a news conference that the peace process would be a complicated, layered effort rolled out in phases that were still in the preparatory stage.
He left open the possibility of a more direct American role in the early efforts. “Various ideas, creative ideas are floating on how to break this logjam and get started,” Mr. Ghani said.
Afghan officials and political leaders said direct American talks with the Taliban would probably then grow into negotiations that would include the Taliban, the Afghan government, the United States and Pakistan.
“If we look backwards, the Bonn process is a pretty good paradigm for what ultimately a peace process is going to look like,” Ms. Wells said, referring to the 2001 talks in the German city that established the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. “You are going to start off — the Afghans speaking to one another, but obviously the United States and Pakistan were critical in that inner core, and then you build out.”
A near-consensus has grown among American and Afghan officials involved in earlier and current efforts to fire up a peace process that the only way out of the war is for the United States to take a more direct role in negotiations.
That realization rests on several facts: that the Taliban are a stubborn insurgency, that they have not budged on their demand to talk directly with the Americans, and that the Afghan government, mired in infighting and marred by political opposition, would struggle to lead a cohesive peace agenda without American help.
Douglas E. Lute, a former ambassador to NATO who advised Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush on Afghanistan, said he supported the new marching orders for American diplomats, although he was not privy to deciding on them.
“We’re in diplomatic gridlock right now,” Mr. Lute said. “We ought to look for creative ways to move this forward.”
Officials have been moving with a sense of urgency because Mr. Trump has expressed his frustration with the war and is desperate to see its end, said a senior American official who, like many spoken to for this article, requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss confidential diplomatic discussions.
During last week’s NATO summit meeting in Brussels, Mr. Trump expressed agreement with a reporter’s question that contained the notion that “people are fed up” with the Afghan war.
“Yeah,” Mr. Trump said Thursday. “I agree with that. I very much agree. It’s been going on for a long time. We’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s been going on for a long time.”
An important distinguishing factor of the recent push, according to officials involved in previous efforts, is that the United States military seems very much on board.
In 2011, when the Obama administration first shifted to a policy of ending the war through negotiations, military commanders still believed they could defeat the Taliban. Now, they define their goal more modestly: keeping the Taliban from victory until a political settlement is reached.
Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was instrumental in initiating last month’s rare cease-fire. As further indication that he is an active part of the new peace effort, he has as an adviser a member of the team that made the initial contacts with the Taliban around 2011.
Those early efforts fell apart after disagreements with the Afghan government, then led by President Hamid Karzai. Still, the Taliban established a political commission by moving some of their officials to Doha, Qatar, in the Persian Gulf. In 2014, the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war who had been kidnapped by the Taliban after he walked off his base, was negotiated through the Doha office.
Another brief moment of hope occurred in 2015, when Afghan officials and representatives of the Taliban met at a resort town in Pakistan. But the credibility of the Taliban representatives who came to the table was questioned, and the process collapsed when news emerged that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar, in whose name they were negotiating, had actually been dead for three years.
Even if talks do begin again, many observers point to how difficult they will be.
Seth Jones, who heads the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there was little evidence that the Taliban’s senior leaders were seriously interested in settlement terms acceptable to Afghan and American officials.
“Most Taliban leaders believe they are winning the war in Afghanistan and that time is on their side,” Mr. Jones said.
David Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who dealt with Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that while grass-roots peace movements in Afghanistan could upset old calculations, progress on the battlefield and in talks with the Taliban remains dependent on effective pressure on Pakistan, where the insurgent leaders have sanctuary.
What undermines that pressure, he said, is a lack of patience and a “reflex impulse” to judge the new American strategy as doomed so soon after it began.
Signals from the Trump administration and exceptions made to military sanctions on Pakistan indicate that the United States is already backing away from the pressure in the hope that Pakistan delivers Taliban leaders to urgent talks.
“If so, the Pakistanis will once again have taken the measure of a vacillating United States,” Mr. Sedney said. “If that was the only factor at play, then I would say that the US move to engage with the Taliban again, as we did a number of times, would be another US government misstep that exacerbates violence and enhances the Taliban’s hopes for a military victory.”
Mujib Mashal reported from Kabul, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
ACTION ALERT: End the US War in Afghanistan
World Beyond War
The US war in Afghanistan is well into its 16th year. In 2014 President Obama declared it over, but it will remain a political, financial, security, legal, and moral problem unless you actually end it.
The US military now has approximately 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan, plus 6,000 other NATO troops, 1,000 mercenaries, and another 26,000 contractors (of whom about 8,000 are from the United States). That’s 41,000 people engaged in a foreign occupation of a country 15 years after the accomplishment of their stated mission to overthrow the Taliban government.
During each of the past 15 years, our government in Washington has informed us that success was imminent. During each of the past 15 years, Afghanistan has continued its descent into poverty, violence, environmental degradation, and instability. The withdrawal of US and NATO troops would send a signal to the world, and to the people of Afghanistan, that the time has come to try a different approach, something other than more troops and weaponry.
The ambassador from the US-brokered and funded Afghan Unity government has reportedly told you that maintaining US involvement in Afghanistan is “as urgent as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.” There’s no reason to believe he won’t tell you that for the next four years, even though John Kerry tells us “Afghanistan now has a well-trained armed force . . . meeting the challenge posed by the Taliban and other terrorists groups.” But involvement need not take its current form.
The United States is spending $4 million an hour on planes, drones, bombs, guns, and over-priced contractors in a country that needs food and agricultural equipment, much of which could be provided by US businesses.
Thus far, the United States has spent an outrageous $783 billion with virtually nothing to show for it except the death of thousands of US soldiers, and the death, injury and displacement of millions of Afghans. The Afghanistan War has been and will continue to be, as long as it lasts, a steady source of scandalous stories of fraud and waste. Even as an investment in the US economy this war has been a bust.
But the war has had a substantial impact on our security: it has endangered us. Before Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up a car in Times Square, he had tried to join the war against the United States in Afghanistan. In numerous other incidents, terrorists targeting the United States have stated their motives as including revenge for the US war in Afghanistan, along with other US wars in the region. There is no reason to imagine this will change.
In addition, Afghanistan is the one nation where the United States is engaged in major warfare with a country that is a member of the International Criminal Court. That body has now announced that it is investigating possible prosecutions for US crimes in Afghanistan.
Over the past 15 years, we have been treated to an almost routine repetition of scandals: hunting children from helicopters, blowing up hospitals with drones, urinating on corpses — all fueling anti-US propaganda, all brutalizing and shaming the United States.
Ordering young American men and women into a kill-or-die mission that was accomplished 15 years ago is a lot to ask. Expecting them to believe in that mission is too much. That fact may help explain this one: the top killer of US troops in Afghanistan is suicide.
The second highest killer of American military is green-on-blue — the Afghan youth who the US is training are turning their weapons on their trainers! You yourself recognized this, saying:
“Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”
The withdrawal of US troops would also be good for the Afghan people, as the presence of foreign soldiers has been an obstacle to peace talks. The Afghans themselves have to determine their future, and will only be able to do so once there is an end to foreign intervention.
We urge you to turn the page on this catastrophic military intervention. Bring all US troops home from Afghanistan. Cease US airstrikes and instead, for a fraction of the cost, help the Afghans with food, shelter, and agricultural equipment.
Elliott Adams, Veterans For Peace
Deborah K. Andresen, Tackling Torture at the Top
Rita Archibald, Nonviolence Trainer
Judy Bello, Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars
Medea Benjamin, Code Pink
Barry Binks, Veterans for Peace Ch. 87, Occupy Beale
Toby Blome’, Code Pink
Alison Bodine, Mobilization Against War and Occupation
Leah Bolger, World Beyond War
John Calder, Veterans for Peace Ch. 69
Kathleen Christison, Author, Veterans for Peace
Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General
Helena Cobban, Just World Books
David Cobb, 2004 Green Party Presidential Nominee
Jeff Cohen, RootsAction.org
Gerry Condon,Veterans for Peace National Board of Directors
Mary Crosby, Roman Catholic Women Priests
James Eilers, Code Pink Auxiliary
Michael Eisenscher, US Labor Against the War
Melissa Crosby, Black Lives Matter
Nicolas J S Davies, author
Mary Dean, World Beyond War
Thomas Dickinson, Tackling Torture at the Top, Women Against Military Madness
Jennifer DiZio, UC Berkeley
Maria Eitz, Roman Catholic Women Priests
Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower
Jodie Evans, Code Pink
Joseph J. Fahey, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Robert Fantina, World Beyond War
Bill Fletcher Jr., BlackCommentator.com
Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance
Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report
Bruce K. Gagnon, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Johan Galtung, Founder Trancend Interntional
Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition UK
The Rev. Dr. Diana C. Gibson, Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice
Michael Goldstein, The 99 Percent
Kevin Gosztola, Shadowproof.com
Will Griffin, The Peace Report
Patty Guerrero, Tackling Torture at the Top, Women Against Military Madness, Pax-Salon
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit
Amith Gupta, student, NYU School of Law
Bill Habedank, Veterans For Peace Ch. 115
Steve Harms, Peace Lutheran Church, Past-President Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County
David Hartsough, Peaceworkers
Jan Hartsough, San Francisco Friends Meeting
Hayley Hathaway, Quaker Earthcare Witness
Dud Hendrick, Veterans for Peace
Adam Hochschild, author
Matthew Hoh, former director of Afghanistan Study Group
Martha Hubert, Code Pink San Francisco
Aaron Hughes, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Tony Jenkins, World Beyond War
Sonja Johnson, Women Against Military Madness
Kathy Kelly, Voices For Creative Nonviolence
Gary W. King, Tackling Torture at the Top, Women Against Military Madness
John Kiriakou, former Central Intelligence agency officer
Dennis Kucinich, former Member of United States Congress
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University
Barry Ladendorf, Veterans For Peace President Board of Directors
Paul Leuenberger, Veterans for Peace
Dave Lindorff, This Can’t Be Happening
Dave Logsdon, Veterans For Peace Ch. 27
Richard Lord, Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice
Douglas Mackey, Global Days of Listening
Jody Mackey, New Traditions Fair Trade
Mike Madden, Veterans For Peace Ch. 27
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
Ben Manski, Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution
Stephen Matchett, AVP Trainer, San Francisco Friends Meeting
Sherri Maurin, Campaign Nonviolence, Associate Veterans for Peace Ch. 69
Ken Mayers, Veterans for Peace
Ray McGovern, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Cynthia McKinney, former member of United States Congress
Stephen McNeil, American Friends Service Committee
Michael T. McPhearson, Veterans For Peace Executive Director
Tom Morman, Nonviolence Coalition San Jose
Nick Mottern, Knowdrones.com
Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, NIC
Michael Nagler, Metta Center for Nonviolence Founder and President
Carroll Nast, Veterans for Peace Ch. 122
Agneta Norberg, Swedish Peace Council
Cathe Norman, Veterans for Peace Associate
Tom Norman, Veterans for Peace Ch. 60
Todd E. Pierce, JA, MAJ, USA (Ret.)
Gareth Porter, journalist, author
Pancho Francisco Ramos-Stierle, Casa de Paz, Canticle Farm
John C. Reiger, Veterans For Peace
Denny Riley, Veterans For Peace Chapter 69
Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and legal counsel
Mike Rufo, Musician
Judith Sandoval, Veterans for Peace Ch. 69
Bill Schwab, Americans for Justice
Julie Searle, Educator
Michael Shaughnessy, educator
Cindy Sheehan, peace activist
Eva Sivill, Casa de Paz, Canticle Farm
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Gar Smith, Environmentalists Against War
David Solnit, Global Organizer, Writer, Puppeteer
Norman Solomon, RootsAction.org
Melvin Starks, Unitarian Universalist Church
Jill Stein, 2016 Green Party presidential candidate
David Swanson, World Beyond War
Shelley Tannenbaum, Quaker Earthcare Witness
Brian Terrell, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Tiffany Tool, Peaceworkers
Chip Tucker, Charlottesville Friends Meeting
Louie J. Vitale, OFM, Pace e Bene, Nevada Desert Experience
Zohreh Whitaker, Veterans for Peace, Peace Action
Phil Wilayto, the Virginia Defender
Ann Wright, retired US Army colonel
Kevin Zeese, Popular Resistance
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Creating a Culture of Peace
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Veterans For Peace
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World Beyond War
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Burlington Green/Environment Hamilton
Citizens To Impeach Trump
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Humanist Party Nyc
Intenational Organization For The Elimination Of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD)
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Medical Mission Sisters
National Campaign For Nonviolent Resistance
National War Tax Coordinating Committee
New Traditions Fair Trade
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No Dal Molin – Vicenza – Italy
Nova Catholic Community
Pax Christi So. Cal.
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Resource Institute Of Social Education – RISE
St. Paul Eastside Neighbors For Peace
US Peace Council
Veterans For Peace, Chapter 3, Maine
Wasatch Coalition For Peace And Justice, Salt Lake City
Wi Bail Out The People Movement
Women Against Military Madness
Women Speak Out For Peace And Justice