Tim Willacy Wilsey, Crypto Brief Expert
Tim Willacy Willacy is a Cipher briefing expert on Afghanistan, visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London, and former senior British diplomat. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of any organization.
Expert perspective The US plan for Afghanistan has a lot to recommend. In particular, the decision to involve regional powers. Weaknesses relate to the taking of Taliban and Pakistan pledges on the basis of confidence without reliable means of enforcement. But there may be ways to avoid this danger by allowing the Taliban to establish its presence in Kandahar on a transitional basis.
The 3 letter pages The 8-page draft peace agreement that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently sent to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is remarkable direct work. It reflects a sense of urgency. Blinken talks about the need to “launch” the peace process and the option of the United States withdrawing all its forces by 1.Street Could. This urgency stems from President Biden’s desire to “end the endless wars” but also to make the most of his recent tenure.
For Ghani and his clever but combative deputy, God’s command, the message came as a shock. They interpreted Biden’s review of Afghan policy as signaling a determination to restore conditionality to the peace process that the Taliban have repeatedly flouted with apparent impunity. Instead, the letter makes clear that Blinken wants the Afghan government to change its stance. In a tone markedly lacking in diplomatic detail, he suggests from the first line that the United States regards Ghani as just one of Afghanistan’s powerful leaders. It names Abdullah Abdullah (Chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation), former President Hamid Karzai and the veteran Islamic warlord Abd al-Rasul Sayyaf and others.
The message is blunt. The United States would like to see a peace agreement. The Afghan schism “must not be allowed to sabotage the opportunity before us.” In a final paragraph that can only be viewed as a threat, Blinken does not only mention the US troop withdrawal option by 1Street May adds that “even as financial aid continues” from the United States, he fears quick regional Taliban gains.
The language of the draft peace agreement is reasonably designed to elicit few objections on both sides. In designing the key institutions for a transitional “peace government”, Washington proposes 50:50 power-sharing between the Taliban and the current Afghan government with the president or candidate who votes. It states that the interim government must have “meaningful inclusion of women.” The State Leadership Council will ensure that representatives from both sides consult on matters of national importance. A constitutional committee will then draft a new constitution for approval by the Loya Jirga (the traditional Afghan Grand Council of Sheikhs) before the elections. At all times, the ceasefire will be in effect under the supervision of the Ceasefire Commission and an international monitoring mission. All of these actions will conform to a predetermined schedule that has yet to be agreed upon.
A skeptic can be forgiven if they think this plan is not realistic at all. Even the current Afghan government has not been able to manage successful elections since 2009, and that was without the Taliban’s participation. A potential changeover for Blinken, however, is the participation of the major regional players. China, Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan are under the auspices of the United Nations and with the possible participation of Turkey, even as a host at this stage.
All of these countries want to see peace in Afghanistan and a stable Afghan government. China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan are keen to see US and NATO forces leave Afghanistan soon. Some will want additional confirmations. China, which the Uyghur militants cannot find sanctuary in Afghanistan, Russia says opium and heroin routes to the north are blocked, and Iran says the Hazara Shiite minority is protected and the Baloch fighters are expelled. Only India will worry about the departure of the United States and the possibility of Pakistan becoming the dominant power in Afghanistan.
Little wonder, then, that Zalmay Khalilzad (US Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan) and General Austin Scott Miller (Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan) visited Islamabad this week to consult with Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Bajwa. Bajwa has become increasingly the dominant figure in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent political troubles. Bajwa was behind the unexpected ceasefire agreement with India last week, after a number of conciliatory speeches towards India in February. Pessimists question the timing of the speeches that began soon after Biden’s inauguration. However, what Khalilzad needs from Bajwa is an unwavering pledge that Pakistan will support his plan and not allow the Taliban to roll back the deal all at once in Kabul.
Here is the plan’s stark weakness: the lack of verification and implementation. Many countries (such as Turkey, Malaysia, and the Nordic countries) may be willing to participate in an international monitoring mission but no country will be prepared to play a role that could lead to a prolonged conflict. The Afghan government’s allowing the Taliban to enter Kabul, even if it is part of a peace government, poses an existential risk if this agreement collapses or the Taliban roll back its terms. It would take a battle like Fallujah (2004) or Mosul (2017) to drive them out of the city and no state or international body has the appetite (and perhaps even the capacity) to play this role.
Salih Ghani would be advised not to take the promises of the Taliban or the Pakistanis on the basis of trust. Alternatively, Ghani may decide to describe Washington’s hoax. He might doubt that Washington is really ready to give up on Afghanistan in 1Street In May with the threat of a swift Taliban victory threatening all the hard-won achievements in areas such as women’s rights and counterterrorism over the past twenty years. The specter of re-establishing Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan will surely be too much for Biden and Blinken.
However, it would be wise for Richie to engage with Blinken to build on his plan and make it more viable. One idea is to find a more detailed solution for Afghanistan as a mediating measure through which the Taliban would be invited to establish themselves as a civilian government in Kandahar city and surrounding provinces as part of a phased confidence building process with the goal of leading toward a reciprocal. Reducing the armed forces (and eventually integrating them), preparation of a new constitution, national elections and the formation of a national government, for example, for a period of 3 to 5 years under the auspices of the United Nations. This would be a tough sell for both the Baja and the Taliban, but they also need to share some of the risks.
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