Taliban Figure Sees Difficulty in Convincing Fighters about Afghan Truce
In conversation with The Media Line, commander also expresses doubts that Kabul will agree to dialogue with Islamists
[Islamabad] A Taliban commander has told The Media Line that plans for a truce, which could lead to peace talks among warring parties in Afghanistan, might be a hard sell for Islamist combatants in the field.
“The majority of our fighters carry out the deadliest attacks against the Afghan government and the [US-led] coalition forces,” Qari Abdul Wali Jan Haqqani said, speaking from an undisclosed location. “So how will our leadership convince their foot soldiers to stop violations against the US troops?”
Haqqani was referring to the terms of a US-Taliban agreement, revealed on Friday by a senior US official, who spoke of a seven-day “reduction in violence” that, if successful, would lead to negotiations and a pullout of American soldiers.
The developments emerged after a meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on the sidelines of an annual international security forum in Munich.
After more than a year of intermittent and unsuccessful negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the news has increased speculation that the sides are close to ending a war that, for the United States, has lasted for more than 18 years.
According to Radio Pakistan, the truce could open doors to another deal that “would see US troops withdraw.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, and US Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, also attended the meeting in Munich, where Ghani, in his address to the conference, said that “a proper announcement will be made in a week to 10 days.”
The Taliban have yet to officially comment about the truce or its terms. Yet Haqqani, in speaking to The Media Line, expressed doubts about the viability of any subsequent talks.
“It is still unclear how the Afghan Taliban leadership will agree to an intra-Afghan dialogue,” he said, “particularly when the Afghan government team will be led by Amrullah Saleh.”
Saleh is a powerful politician who previously served as interior minister and head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. Raised in Pakistan, he was trained by that country’s army during the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and is currently a harsh critic of the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Before the meeting in Munich with Ghani, Esper met with Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid.
“The United States and Afghanistan remain committed to finding a solution that ends the conflict and protects our collective security gains,” Esper stated. “The US remains focused on a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.”
On Thursday, prior to the developments in Munich, US President Donald Trump said a peace agreement was “very close.” Earlier in the week, Ghani tweeted that there had been “notable progress” in talks with the Taliban.
“This is a welcoming development,” he wrote, “and I am pleased that our principal position on peace thus far has begun to yield fruitful results. Our primary objective is to end the senseless bloodshed.”
Prof. Syed Baidar Agha, a Kabul-based political analyst and former diplomat, told The Media Line that the road was still long.
“The progress of peace talks is encouraging and good news for the Afghan people, but a ceasefire or reduction in violence does not mean the end of people’s worries,” he said.
“It is not clear what a reduction in violence means. Can it guarantee a cessation of war in Afghanistan? Such ambiguities must be resolved, and the meaning of ‘reducing violence’ must be [made] clear,” he said. “‘Reducing violence’ means it can be sustainable, pervasive and lead to a ceasefire.”
Agha added that a signed agreement would be a “great achievement” for the Taliban, saying it would now be seen as a “political force dealing with the US.”
He also expressed doubts about peace talks.
“The Kabul regime is not serious about the follow-up of this cease-fire agreement,” he said, adding that the government “has not yet finalized its political team. Only the controversial figure Amrullah Saleh is in the news as the head of the political team.”
Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired Pakistani general and former defense minister, told The Media Line that the US is out of options.
“Both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan have the luxury of time on their side. Unlike the US, they are geographically and physically linked,”e said, referring to the assistance the Taliban have often found within Pakistan.
“Undoubtedly, [the government of] Pakistan has played a key role in the ongoing peace process, and the US administration, including President Trump, have repeatedly praised Pakistani efforts for bringing the Afghan Taliban back to the peace table,” he stated.
Lodhi noted that a withdrawal from Afghanistan would mean the US will have to exert regional influence through Pakistan.
“The US has reluctantly decided to leave Afghanistan but is making last-ditch attempts to keep [its] influence in the region. Pakistan may once again emerge as [its] darling,” he said.
He added that Islamabad, as the last remaining base of US influence, will find it necessary to establish “concrete partnerships… on its own terms” with all other regional powers.
“China and Russia are already on board with Pakistan,” he explained. “With the existing leverage Pakistan possesses with both these regional powers, and [its] traditional alliance with the Afghan Taliban, the US has no other option but to use Pakistan as a conduit to protect American interests in the region.”
Rashid A. Malik, a Dubai-based Afghan expert and retired general, told The Media Line that it will be a “breakthrough” if there is a deal in Afghanistan.
“It would be a complete change in the Taliban’s hardline policy that they agree to sit across the table [from] the Afghan government,” he said, noting that the Islamists have always referred to leaders in Kabul as “puppets” and illegitimate.
“The Taliban leadership would acknowledge the legitimacy of these so-called puppets,” he explained.
Malik noted that the Taliban were demanding a complete withdrawal of foreign troops while the Americans wanted to maintain a counter-terrorism presence indefinitely, saying that if the Taliban agree to a limited intelligence presence in return for international aid, it would be a win for the US and a loss for Taliban credibility.
Yet he hinted that the proposed cease-fire reflects a certain lack of will on the part of the Americans.
“They spent a trillion dollars of American taxpayer money and lost more than 2,400 troops to conquer Afghanistan,” he noted. “How US officials begged the Taliban for only a seven-day ceasefire is a big question mark about the efficiency of a world superpower.”