Afghan Peace Talks: Why They Won't Go Anywhere
The world has recently become obsessed with the war between Edward Snowden and the United States government. But the war we're fighting in Afghanistan has continued to move forward in the background.
In the midst of the current withdrawal of American forces, the State Department and apparent representatives of the Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of peace talks. Five days after the talks begun, they faltered. But whether the talks are renewed is irrelevant because the meetings are simply political cover for the coalition's failure to leave behind a stable democratic regime in Kabul.
The announcement of peace talks in Qatar is a sideshow to what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced the talks, and said the Taliban should negotiate directly with the Kabul government. The Taliban have stated repeatedly that they will not negotiate with the Karzai government that they see as a puppet of the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "if there is not a decision … to move forward by the Taliban in short order, then we may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed." Secretary Kerry's apathy towards the renewal of talks underscores his own lack of confidence in their ability to solve Afghanistan's long or short-term issues. If Afghanistan is to have a political solution it will require the adverse parties that will live together in an Afghan democracy to come to mutual agreement. The United States cannot hold the hands of factions that have now been fighting for over 30 years and are prepared to fight for 30 more.
Despite rhetoric from coalition political leaders Afghan military forces are unlikely to maintain control over the vast and diverse country without the air support, supply chains, communication networks, or basic guns that allow them to hold their ground. Even though the United States has transferred control of all territory to Afghan forces and begun peace talks with the Taliban our positions and allies are still under attack.
The dance around whether peace talks can move forward belies the fact that the civil war that has already begun. The Karzai government and Taliban are not the only sides fighting in the war, and they are probably not even the strongest.
The coming civil war is apparent from the status quo of Afghan politics. Many of the members of parliament and Karzai's cabinet are not only former mujahideen fighters from the Soviet era, but they currently lead large private militias. Militias run by Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Marshall Fahim, to name a few, have amassed stores of guns and ammunition that have been delivered by the United States and our allies to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. No matter how good our intelligence, guns that we ship to the "good guys" are inevitably sold and bartered between factions. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani were the "good guys" in the 1980s, and now they're some of the Afghan Taliban's strongest military allies carrying out coordinated suicide attacks on urban Kabul. This lesson from Afghanistan would be helpful for the Syrian war hawks in Washington, D.C. to review.
The New York Times reported last week that General Dostum phoned Governor Mohammad Aleem Sayee, of the remote Jowzjan province, and demanded that he join a plot to start a civil war. When the governor refused Dostum reportedly threatened to kill his family. This behavior is not surprising from a man accused of serious war crimes. And remember that both men belong to the same political party, the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan.
Despite millions of dollars in secret money from the CIA to President Karzai's office he has been unable to buy the permanent loyalty of all the factions necessary to rule Afghanistan. And Karzai isn't the only one receiving money. General Dostum himself is rumored to receive up to $100,000 per month of CIA "ghost money." Hedging your bets may be a good strategy when investing in the stock market, but when it comes to supplying weapons and money to violent warlords we should not under estimate the consequential costs of such actions. The instability among the political elite is reflected by the rapid increase in the recent number of Afghan civilians, many of them children, making the difficult journey to Europe to seek asylum.
Amrullah Salleh, Afghanistan's former director of intelligence, noted that the Taliban representatives sent to Qatar have never met Mullah Omar, and were probably sent to Doha by Pakistani intelligence. The talks are an opportunity for both the Americans and the Afghan Taliban to say they tried to reach a peaceful resolution, but neither side cares if there is any agreement.
With Afghanistan's power brokers jockeying for position, Mullah Omar won't be the only one fighting for Kabul. Although Omar has vowed to take Kabul within a week of the withdrawal of coalition troops no one can predict precisely when the Karzai government will fall. One thing that is for certain though is that the warlords in parliament and Karzai's cabinet will use the money and weapons we have provided to fight each other and the Afghan Taliban. Peace talks may make us feel good but they cannot forestall the inevitable.