Taliban Cancel Peace Talks As Afghan President Issues Troops Edict
Efforts by the United States to lay the groundwork for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan have been dented by the Taliban's decision to suspend peace talks in Qatar.
IHS Global Insight Perspective
The Taliban has announced the suspension of talks between its emissaries and US officials in Qatar.
Justifying their decision, the militants blamed the US for "wasting time". The US Department of State then issued comments that indicated its negotiating position is far from that of the Taliban emissaries.
The Taliban's statement corroborates the view that their field commanders are confident of military gains on the ground and suspicious of any negotiated compromise that might obstruct their progress in this regard. It also supports the idea that senior Taliban leaders fear that their authority over those commanders could slip.
The Taliban has announced the suspension of talks between its emissaries and officials from the United States in Qatar. An English-language statement released yesterday (15 March) explained the decision in some detail. It said that the Qatari representative office was established on 3 January in order to repudiate suggestions that the Taliban are unreachable or that they have no political agenda beyond winning power through force. However, the militants are not satisfied with events since the office was founded.
Doha, Qatar, where Taliban delegates have travelled
In particular, they are displeased that the talks have been portrayed by the US and Afghan governments as wide-ranging multilateral discussions towards a peace accord. This, the statement said, was not the case: talks had been bilateral with the US and focused exclusively on the creation of the office and the exchange of prisoners. No talks had taken place with Afghan president Hamid Karzai's "stooge regime". Moreover, the US had failed to comply with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) agreed at one of the meetings (precise timings were not supplied). At the most recent encounter, an American representative presented a list of conditions to the delegates which, the Taliban said, were unacceptable and had contradicted the agreed MoU.
As a result, the Taliban would suspend talks forthwith. The statement said that for discussions to resume, the Americans would need to abandon their "shaky, erratic and vague" position, clarify the issues of concern to the Taliban, and move towards fulfilling their commitments instead of "wasting time". It said the Afghan situation had two dimensions, internal and external, and the Taliban was not willing to discuss internal matters until the external question relating to the foreign military presence in Afghanistan was resolved. The statement linked the international presence to instability across the entire region and said the militants would not tolerate the establishment of either temporary or permanent US bases in Afghanistan. These are currently being discussed under strategic partnership negotiations between the US and Karzai's government.
When questioned about the Taliban's decision, the US Department of State's spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested the US position was very far from that of the militants. She said that it had always been the sole intention of the US to foster Afghan-to-Afghan talks. If the Taliban were serious about negotiations, Nuland said they needed to make a clear statement distancing themselves from "international terrorism"—by implication, Al-Qaeda. She refused to discuss the details of any possible transfer of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. She also rejected the Taliban's demand for the non-establishment of longer-term US bases in Afghanistan, saying that the US was seeking ways through the strategic partnership to support Afghan forces in building a stable country.
In another move unlikely to be welcomed in Washington, Karzai himself yesterday released a statement demanding that US-led international forces withdraw from outposts in Afghan villages and retreat into larger bases. The president issued the decree after talks with visiting US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta in Kabul. His demand appeared to be a response to widespread public anger at a massacre apparently perpetrated by a US soldier in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province earlier this week (see United States - Afghanistan: 12 March 2012: Massacre of Civilians by US Soldier in Afghanistan Threatens Progress on Strategic Pact).
Outlook and Implications
The Taliban's statement is interesting and problematic. It corroborates the view that Taliban field commanders are confident of military gains on the ground and suspicious of any negotiated compromise that might obstruct their progress in this regard. It also supports the idea that senior Taliban leaders fear that their authority over those commanders could slip, hence their insistence on narrow, concrete gains from the Qatar talks. From a US perspective, the negotiations are politically useful for President Barack Obama's administration as they suggest that the now-unpopular Afghan war is moving towards a peaceful conclusion. The US therefore has an incentive to revive the discussions. Much less palatable for Obama, however, is any actual transfer of Taliban prisoners, which would attract criticism from his Republican rivals ahead of November's presidential polls.
Karzai has sporadically issued demands for US-led forces to modify their tactical behaviour, often in response to civilian casualties. These have included an end to night-time commando raids and airstrikes on private residences (see Afghanistan: 31 May 2011: Afghan President Bars NATO from Air Strikes on Private Homes). US commanders have ignored his edicts. In this instance, the US is likely to claim that it is complying with the president's demands as per the ongoing province-by-province "transition" of security control to the Afghan National Security Forces, a process that places few clear restrictions on where international forces can and cannot operate. The issue of after-dark raids, however, remains a sticking point in negotiations towards the strategic partnership accord and a US military presence after 2014. A compromise, possibly before May's NATO summit, could see an acceleration of rural "transition" in exchange for continued flexibility on night raids, thereby preserving Karzai's appearance of domestic authority.
- Indian government releases DPCO 2013, expanding price controls to 652 drugs
- Key US data releases and events
- Pfizer, Takeda to receive USD2.15 bil. from settlement agreement over Protonix with Teva, Sun Pharma
- Chinese vehicle sales rise, local OEM Chery sees demand drop – CAAM
- Passenger vehicle demand props up overall sales in China during May – CAAM
- Ford struggles to meet Fusion demand, to unveil new Lincoln CUV by year-end
- Anti-capitalist and republican security threats dominate preparations for G8 summit in Northern Ireland
- Unprecedented police raid shakes Czech government's fragile stability
- Global Economic Impact of the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster
- Battle of Aleppo will be pivotal for Syrian conflict