Can Saudi Arabia Help Negotiate Peace in Afghanistan? The U.S. Hopes So

(PKONWEB Report) — Saudi Arabia has agreed to play a leading role in starting a new peace process in Afghanistan, part of the latest U.S.-led two-pronged strategy to find a political solution to America’s longest war while militarily scaling up efforts to force the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The Department of Defense has said on its website, that “a new U.S. Army formation (brigade) has been deployed to Afghanistan dedicated to focusing the power of the Afghan military and government on taking the fight to the Taliban to convince the group to reconcile.”

The Wall Street Journal reported today  the U.S. and Afghanistan hope the Saudis can bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and act as guarantors for a possible peace deal. The paper cited officials involved in the process.

The move comes as the Trump administration wants Saudi Arabia to act as interlocutor between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Last Wednesday, the White House said there is an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to be a key interlocutor between the US and Pakistan–their bilateral relationship has reportedly hit rock-bottom after the US President announced in August his South Asia policy to end America’s 16-year old conflict in Afghanistan which has cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion plus. And Trump’s new year early morning tweet accusing Pakistan lies, deceit and deception did the rest.

The U.S. National Security Council is spearheading this new four-nation effort, a NSC spokesperson told WSJ this week. The group also includes the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally that previously deployed troops to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting there.

President Donald Trump’s outgoing national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, hosted the first, hourlong meeting between the four countries on March 23. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in the U.S. on a two-week official visit.

Among the topics discussed by Crown Prince Mohammed during a visit to Washington last week was “wow to bring stability to Afghanistan,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters.

A week later, Alice Wells, the U.S. State Department official who oversees South and Central Asia arrived in Islamabad to discuss bilateral ties and Pakistan’s cooperation in fight against terrorism and Afghan peace.

A similar peace negotiation effort during Obama administration involved a different set of four countries: the U.S., Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. Beijing and Islamabad weren’t invited to the March meeting.

During the March meeting, the new set of four nations agreed to create a working group that would meet regularly to decide on a road map to peace in Afghanistan, officials said.

“On peace and reconciliation, Saudi Arabia is best placed to help Afghanistan,” Afghan national security adviser Hanif Atmar said during a visit to Washington last week. “We are extremely optimistic that this level of cooperation will actually lead to concrete results for peace and reconciliation.”

The new initiative could at a later stage be widened to include other countries, the NSC official told WSJ. Officials who participated said the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia could host future talks.

Mr. Atmar said he believes the Taliban are open to Saudi Arabia’s mediation. He also said Saudi Arabia could help by applying pressure on Pakistan– the Kingdom’s traditional ally and friend with whom it has bilateral security pact dating back to the 1980s.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without preconditions as a way to end the nearly two-decade-long conflict in his country. A month later, as delegates from more than 20 countries gathered in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to discuss ways to restore stability to Afghanistan, there still hasn’t been a formal response from the Taliban. Officials have held out hope that the absence of a reply is cause for optimism. “[W]e have not seen them reject the proposal, which … is in itself a positive sign,” Wells said earlier this month at the U.S. Institute for Peace. “And I would underscore our hope and expectation that the Taliban leadership will analyze the proposal seriously and carefully.”

Ali Mohammad Ali, founder of the Washington-based Center for Research and Policy Analysis said the new step “is a big turning point. It can work, but it won’t bring all of the Taliban to the negotiating table. They can maybe bring 50% of the Taliban—but it can get the process started.”

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