After decades of conflict, Afghanistan is closer to a political settlement than ever before. But with new reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers, USIP’s Andrew Wilder says there’s concern the issue “distracts from the bigger-picture need for the U.S. to continue to support the peace process.”
Recent intelligence reports indicating that Russian bounties paid to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops have bolstered American and Afghan officials long-held allegations that Moscow has been engaged in clandestine operations to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Russia’s support for the Taliban, however, has largely been tactical in nature. Both Washington and Moscow ultimately have a converging strategic interest in a relatively stable Afghanistan without a long-term U.S. presence that will not be a haven for transnational terrorists. USIP’s Andrew Wilder looks at what this means for the decades-long Afghan conflict.
President Trump’s weekend announcement of a halt to U.S. peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban—including a previously unannounced U.S. plan for a Camp David meeting to conclude that process—leaves the future of the Afghanistan peace process unclear. USIP’s Andrew Wilder, a longtime Afghanistan analyst, argues that, rather than declaring an end to the peace process, U.S. negotiators could use the setback as a moment to clarify the strategy, and then urgently get the peace process back on track before too much momentum is lost.
Afghanistan’s government is optimistic that the delayed peace talks with the Taliban can start soon, acting Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar told an online audience. Atmar’s comments are the latest sign that one reason for the five-month delay, disputes over the two sides’ release of prisoners they have been holding, may be nearly resolved. Taliban attacks on government forces have continued, and civilian casualties have remained high, as the two sides have wrestled over conditions for starting the talks as envisioned in a February agreement between the United States and the Taliban.
The head of Afghanistan’s new peace council said yesterday that he is optimistic that intra-Afghan talks can start in the coming weeks, but increased levels of violence and details of prisoner releases may slow the start of talks. Chairman Abdullah added that the government’s negotiating team will be inclusive and represent common values in talks with the Taliban. The team “will be diverse and represent all walks of life,” Abdullah said. Afghans and analysts have expressed concern that without an inclusive negotiating team, the country’s hard-won, democratic gains could be compromised for the sake of a deal with the Taliban.
“I think President Trump has really unlocked the possibility for the peace process by putting our troops on the table, as long as we just don’t withdraw them unilaterally,” says Andrew Wilder. Following President Trump’s clarification of the administration’s strategy during the State of the Union, Wilder shares his analysis of the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan.
Echoing his country’s leaders, Pakistan’s new ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, affirmed that his government will take an across-the-board approach to controlling extremist groups without regard for their particular cause or connections.
In Afghanistan, a string of attacks has killed more than 130 people and wounded more than 300 in just over a week. Targets included a busy downtown block near a government hospital, an international hotel, a military training academy, and the global charity Save the Children.
The senior U.S. diplomat for South and Central Asia, Ambassador Alice Wells, urged Afghanistan’s Taliban to take up last week’s offer by President Ashraf Ghani to hold direct peace negotiations. “It is a positive sign” that the Taliban have not rejected Ghani’s proposal, Wells said—and a planned regional conference in Tashkent this month should reinforce international pressure for the insurgent movement’s acceptance of peace talks.
President Trump’s blueprint for the U.S. role in Afghanistan broadly resembles that of prior administrations, correcting some previous errors while appearing likely to repeat others, USIP experts told journalists today.