End Game: A ‘Hurried US Retreat From Afghanistan Would Result In Chaos’

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The Afghan Taliban is enjoying new stature in the international arena, where the US and neighboring powers see it as a foil to the more dangerous Islamic State (IS).

PKONWEB Report (ISLAMABAD) — Washington’s special envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s bloody unwinnable 17-year-old war met Tuesday with Pakistani officials, and a Taliban official told AP four members from the group’s political office in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar were also in the capital.

But the visit by the Taliban leaders, which included a former Taliban ambassador and a former governor is “private,” the official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban official said the group’s Qatar office sent Shaha-ud-din Dilawar, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Zia-ur-Rahman Madani, former governor of Logar province; Suhail Shaheen, a former diplomat and Sala Hanafi.

There was no indication who the four might meet or how long they would stay in Pakistan but it was expected their visit would be a prelude to further discussions in Qatar when Khalilzad visits later this month.

Khalilzad is holding meetings with Pakistani political and military leadership about bringing the Afghan Taliban to peace talks–the Taliban now control more than 50 percent of the strife-torn landscape and threaten to control 70 percent of the country in months ahead.

Washington’s own Congress-appointed watchdog says the Taliban control or hold sway in 50 percent of the country, and a top US General in Afghanistan in an October interview sounded pessimistic about military victory, and suggested political solution.

Khalilzad said earlier this month in Kabul that he held out hope that a peace agreement, which he referred to as a “roadmap for the future,” was possible between the Taliban and an Afghan government appointed team. Khalilzad even suggested it could be in place ahead of Afghanistan’s scheduled presidential elections on April 20.

During October and November, there have been a flurry of talks and conferences between and among permanent stakeholders in the region for durable peace in Afghanistan. Some of them were directly held with the Afghan Taliban.

President Trump in the meanwhile kept doubling down on Pakistan for US failures in Afghanistan. Those tactics have now apparently been discarded.

The US special envoy in his meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated US President Donald Trump’s desire to seek Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Qureshi has assured the US side of Pakistan’s steadfast support for a negotiated settlement in war-torn Afghanistan, following up on PM Khan’s September statement that Pakistan will only ally with the US for peace, not war.

Khalilzad’s visit also follows Trump’s letter to PM Khan, seeking Islamabad’s “assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war”, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement.

In Washington, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council (NSC) told local daily Dawn that in his first letter to the Pakistani premier, President Trump had sought “Pakistan’s full support” for the US-led peace process in Afghanistan and for his special envoy’s trip to the region.

The special envoy will also travel to Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in a stepped-up effort to find a peaceful end to the Afghan war and stake out exist strategy while maintaining the leverage. Some observers say Russia, China and Iran have been taking initiatives much to the dismay of the US.

“He (Khalilzad) will also meet with Afghan government officials and other interested parties to support and facilitate an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, empowering the Afghan people to decide their nation’s fate,” read a press release by the US Department of State.

Khalilzad’s accelerated efforts aim to develop contours that would enable eventual withdrawal for the United States from its longest war in its history, which has already cost Washington nearly $1 trillion–stakeholders in the region do not want a repeat of a disruptive vacuum that was witnessed at the end of 11-year Afghan War in the 80s.

According to The Washington Post, however, the Afghan Taliban seems to be in no hurry at all after the recent gains since a brief truce in June. Meanwhile, diplomatically, the resistant group is enjoying new stature in the international arena, where the US and neighboring powers see it as a foil to the more dangerous Islamic State (IS).

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government hopes that progress toward ending the war will ease public anxiety and revive the struggling economy.

While attending the 2-day conference in Geneva last month focused on development and the war-torn country’s beleaguered economy, Ghani invited international community participate in his country’s mining industry. “Our natural resources are estimated to be worth one trillion dollars. But they remain on paper,” said Ghani. Presidential elections are due in coming summer.

And the Trump administration hopes to escape an unpopular war without abandoning a fragile country that could provide space for US presence in the long haul–if the Afghans want so.

According to one observer, President Trump could be the right guy to win the “negotiated settlement” battle of wits because he doesn’t really care about the consequences. “Trump’s focus is honing on transactional deals with  attention span close to the one of the goldfish, so he doesn’t really bother about the details,” says Irshad Salim, a Pakistani-American business consultant with special interests in geoeconomy and geopolitics.

Nonetheless, ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor while briefing foreign journalists on Tuesday, cautioned against a hurried US retreat from Afghanistan that leaves behind a vacuum, warning it would result in chaos. He said a peaceful Afghanistan was in the interest of Pakistan, saying Afghanistan is one of the few countries with which Pakistan has a trade surplus.

Ghafoor also said that until 2014, the Pakistan military, which has lost more soldiers than NATO and the United States combined, fighting the anti-terror war, was focused on battling its own insurgents, the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ignored demands to widen the war to include Afghan insurgents, including the Haqqani network.

But after 2014, he said the Pakistan army launched its operation in North Waziristan district to rid the area of foreign insurgents, including Afghan Taliban and Uzbek insurgents, but when they fled across the border into Afghanistan the US and Afghan forces failed to confine them.

Ghafoor said Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban is overstated, yet he said Pakistan has repeatedly told the insurgent group to join the peace process.

He said the release of senior Taliban officials from Pakistani prisons, including a co-founder of the movement, Mullah Ghani Baradar, was part of the peace process.

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