• Wednesday, August 5, 2020

China’s containment in Afghanistan is the ultimate U.S. objective

Discussion in 'Central & South Asia' started by BHarwana, Mar 11, 2019.

  1. BHarwana

    BHarwana MODERATOR

    Sep 24, 2016
    +24 / 37,886 / -4
    The stalemate in Afghanistan's war is turning out to be a bone in the throat of the United States.

    Albeit spending more than 1 trillion U.S. dollars over 17 years on war operations and reconstruction in the "graveyard of empires," peace in the messy country remains a delusion. The U.S. military and strategic tactics of massive troop deployment, carpet bombings, training, equipping, building, and sustaining the Afghan Security Forces (ASF) have precisely failed to prevent the situation from further worsening.

    After eliciting incalculable human casualties and widespread destruction, the U.S. has now eventually conceded its vindictive stance towards the Taliban – accepting their key role in sustainable peace in Afghanistan. It is now holding direct talks with the Afghan Taliban.

    The new U.S. approach incorporates a significant change in its South Asian foreign policy – underscoring that it has spurned any kind of negotiations with Afghan Taliban since 2001 at a time it launched inimical attacks on Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaida networks and oust Afghan Taliban from power.

    A U.S. team, headed by Zalmay Khalilzad, is holding marathon talks in Doha with an empowered Afghan delegation, led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The peace dialogue is composed of four major issues, including troop withdrawal and a ceasefire that will substantiate a draft for any future agreement, a State Department spokesperson told a press briefing.

    In January, the Afghan Taliban nominated Mullah Baradar as a chief peace negotiator. He is one of the four founding members of the Afghan Taliban in 1994 and was released by the Pakistani government last year. He was the highest-ranking Taliban official ever set free.

    Mullah Baradar held several positions in the Afghan Taliban regime and was considered to be the most-influential Taliban leader behind Mullah Omar.

    When urged to elaborate on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks about the Taliban as terrorists in Afghanistan – his office declined to respond.

    "The Secretary's words speak for themselves, and I'm not going to go beyond that," deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said.

    It is noteworthy that the Afghan Taliban isn't listed on the U.S. State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

    To the U.S., a foreign organization must engage in terrorist activities that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States. The Afghan Taliban does not meet the criteria as it is largely an insurgent group that controls vast swathes of territory and has aspirations to govern the country.

    That is why, in January 2015 when the U.S. needed to negotiate a prisoner swap with Afghan Taliban – they were termed as an armed insurgent group that was "different than (a terrorist) organization like Al Qaeda." Also because the White House believed that such prisoner swaps were "traditional end-of-conflict interaction" with the Afghan war winding down.

    The ongoing U.S.-Afghan Taliban peace dialogue is not abrupt. There has been a gradual buildup to reach this point and the role of one country, Pakistan, has continuously been conducive to the peace process in Afghanistan.

    Going back to July 2015, the White House welcomed the Murree Peace Talks between the Afghani government and Afghan Taliban, calling them "an important step toward advancing prospects for a credible peace."

    Observers from China and the United States attended these quadrilateral exchanges, which were choreographed by Pakistan.

    However, the landmark dialogue between the two major stakeholders in Afghanistan was sabotaged after the Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May 2016, dimming the rare hope of peace.

    But the killing of Mullah Mansour did not make any difference to the situation in Afghanistan, which continued to deteriorate further as a BBC investigation in January 2018 found that the Taliban are active in 70 percent of Afghanistan.

    The same month, President Trump turned down any possibility of negotiations with the Taliban after a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan.

    "There may be a time, but it is going to be a long time," he said.

    But the "long time" quickly faded away. In July, four Taliban members met Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Well in Doha.

    The groundbreaking talks "were very helpful," a senior Taliban member told The Guardian. Just before the talks, the White House dropped its coarse stance about Taliban stating that while they are a source of instability in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that they could pose any kind of international danger.

    Afghani President Ashraf Ghani receives U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on February 18, 2019. /VCG Photo

    Later on August 21, Wells welcomed Imran Khan's statement on the importance of peace on both sides – Afghanistan and Pakistan – and emphasized on Pakistan's key role in the long-term stability in Afghanistan.

    Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Corps General Dunford visited on September 5 to "reset" relations with Pakistan – once again highlighting the importance of Pak-U.S. relationship and Pakistan's vital role in negotiating an Afghan peace process.

    Meanwhile, then U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis traced indications of reconciliation in Afghanistan – which were now away from an illusion. Mattis mentioned some "open lines of communication" – avoiding confirmation of Doha talks with the Taliban.

    In October, the Afghan Taliban held the second round of talks, this time with Khalilzad that was followed by a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi, including representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

    In December, President Trump requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to support and facilitate the Afghan peace process. Pakistan welcomed Washington's desire, highlighting the country's "long-standing position to give peace and reconciliation a real chance in Afghanistan."

    The letter was followed by Khalilzad's visit to Pakistan.

    Prime Minister Khan reassured that "Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the U.S. in Abu Dhabi…..Pakistan will be doing everything within its power to further the peace process." Pakistan denies any direct influence on the Afghan Taliban.

    The peace talks were occasionally interrupted when the Afghan Taliban threatened to abandon the dialogue, claiming that the United States is pursuing "its colonial and military objectives in the guise of peace." The dialogue however continued, though the Afghan Taliban are still reluctant to talk to the Afghan government, calling it a "puppet regime."

    So, once again the United States is desperately seeking Pakistan's crucial role to resolve the longstanding Afghanistan conflict, in an apparent acknowledgment that Afghanistan's dispute cannot be resolved without the help of Pakistan.

    Pakistan must not just observe the peace process or go recklessly through the course. It must press the U.S. to support its peace initiatives such as increased troop deployment, surveillance, and border management aimed at restricting terrorists' movement on the border with Afghanistan for long-term, durable peace in both the countries.

    But unfortunately, the deliberate U.S. denial to these peace initiatives explicitly shows that the resolution of the Afghan conflict or sustainable peace in Afghanistan is not its ultimate goal and goes on to corroborate that it essentially needs a vulnerable country (and least violent) in South Asia to contain China.

    Its approach shows that keeping the Afghan situation as is would provide it with an ideal footprint in South Asia to keep a check on its new Cold War rival – China – as well as to serve its global political, trade, and strategic interests.