US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad gestures as he speaks during a forum talk with Afghan director of TOLO news Lotfullah Najafizada, at the Tolo TV station in Kabul on April 28, 2019. - The United States and Afghanistan stressed the need for "intra-Afghan dialogue" when US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held talks on April 27, a palace statement said. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)

Qadir Khan Yousafzai

The inveterate depredation in Afghanistan has been a costly affair for all stakeholders and those involved in conflict-resolution efforts. The resolution of the decades-long Afghan quagmire is being impeded by many intricate matters. The inability of the U.S. and the Taliban to come up with a joint communiqué after six rounds of direct talks is leading to speculations, and causing  jitters among the ranks. Amidst all this, attention has shifted towards Taliban’s meetings with high-ranking foreign officials. The Baradar-led Taliban delegation attended a series a talks in Moscow to mark 100 years of Russo-Afghan relations. Besides, Taliban interlocutors including Baradar met Germany’s special representative to Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, and discussed the ways and means to end the simmering quagmire in Afghanistan. However, peace remains elusive due to a host of reasons.

U.S.’ dilly-dallying on the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, makes the Afghans and others reminisce the sordid post-Geneva Accords scenario in Afghanistan. Unable to continue doling out money in Afghanistan, the then enfeebled Soviet Union left Afghanistan hastily, something that hurt the establishment of a workable political system in the war-torn country. Coupled with that, the U.S. left the Afghans in a lurch after fighting the Soviets along with them for a good part of nine years. The dispensation after the Geneva Accords was weak; differences led to a brutal civil war. Also, Moscow ended its patronage of the Afghan government in 1991. That proved to be a death knell for the communist regime of Najibullah.

Today, the U.S. finds itself in a similar situation. The hasty manner in which Zalmay Khalilzad is going about the Afghan peace process, shows that the U.S. is fast-losing its grip on Afghanistan, and the only way to reach a modus vivendi is through dialogue. However, both sides are wary of publicizing their final agreement. The U.S. does not want to go the Soviet way. It is using dilatory tactics to dispel the impression that it has lost. It also wants to show that unlike erstwhile Soviet Union, it is taking all stakeholders onboard before exiting Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons of kick starting the peace process is to absolve itself of any blame, should Afghanistan descend into chaos after the U.S. leaves Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the Taliban do not recognize the Afghan government. The Taliban do, however, talk to opposition parties, a process that has been sabotaged by the Kabul administration. The machinations on part of President Ashraf Ghani in shape of postponement of elections, and overstaying his term, are meant to provide the U.S. a safe exit from Afghanistan. The Taliban vehemently abjure such a scheme, and hence ceasefire is not an option for them. The Taliban-U.S. military confrontation is not helping the Kabul administration but is resulting in the loss of innocent lives in Afghanistan.

This handout image made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry on May 28, 2019 in Moscow shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C-right) and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (C-left) posing for a family photo together with the participants of a conference marking a century of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. – Senior Taliban officials including the group’s top political advisor met with Afghan political figures in Moscow today, saying they were committed to peace in Afghanistan — even as US-led talks appear to have stalled. (Photo by Handout / Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS” – NO MARKETING – NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The incessant rounds of talks in Qatar between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban bear testimony to U.S.’ military defeat at the hands of the Taliban. Pundits feel that the U.S. should not be trusted, for it is still dithering in regard to troops’ withdrawal. The inability of the U.S. to spread verifiable news regarding the dialogue process has allowed for Taliban’s PR efforts to take center stage. They are not only in regular contact with the people but are increasingly using modern tools of media to put across their word. Taliban’s victory in multifarious domains has been detailed in a book written by General Thomas Johnson. In the book and elsewhere, General Johnson said the U.S. cannot win against those who obliterate everything that comes their way. He further said that the war in Afghanistan will be won by the force that scores high on propaganda. The Taliban have grasped this basic element and have convinced the Afghans that their country is under attack from foreign forces. The Americans, on the other hand, have failed to justify their presence in Afghanistan. This implies that the Taliban have won over the people by using simple and cost effective tactics. Alex Strick and Felix Kuehn, two ace researchers of Taliban affairs, have concluded that in order for the world to understand the Taliban, their literature poems and verses must be deeply studied.

Taliban’s ever-increasing control in swathes of Afghan territory is too stark a reality to circumvent. This was not lost on U.S.’ military commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, who admitted that the U.S. cannot defeat the Taliban, and is hence pursuing peace talks. General Miller also said that the Taliban are a veritable reality, which is reason enough to show seriousness towards the peace process. This refrain is in contrast to the many bombardment campaigns and military operations launched by U.S. forces against the Taliban. However, the results have been anything but in U.S.’ favor. The Taliban are ruling the roost; Afghan forces have, according to President Ashraf Ghani, lost 28,000 of their soldiers over the past four years. It is still not clear as to whether this is clash between the Taliban and the Afghan government or that between the Taliban and the U.S.

Top U.S. military officials, Generals Joseph Dunfiord and Mickenzie have on different occasions given adverse reports on the war against the Taliban. This longevity of war and Taliban’s constant gains compelled the U.S. to enter into a dialogue with them, something that must continue. However, the fluid political situation in Afghanistan can mar the peace process. The proliferation of ISIS through the announcements of separate chapters in India and Pakistan, and the brewing tensions in the Persian Gulf, have put the entire onus of ending the Afghan conflict on the US. With the Kabul administration in tatters, chances of a political stalemate after a military one worries all peaceniks in the region and beyond.

Qadir Khan Yusafzai is a Columnist at Jehan Pakistan.