Post-elections scenario and the idea of peace talks in Afghanistan

Post-elections scenario and the idea of peace talks in Afghanistan
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Should we appreciate the fact that long-delayed parliamentary elections in Afghanistan have now been held, or show remorse over the loss of lives that resulted?

Perhaps, a bit of both.

On the polling day itself, at least 78 people were killed, and around 470 were wounded. Unfortunately, for many of us, such news has become routine. The numbers are horrific, but the question is: Do we actually care? The Taliban have been on a killing spree for quite some time, and they’ve been allowed – directly or indirectly – to run the show.

What’s more damning is the fact the bloodshed doesn’t appear likely to stop anytime soon.

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These are the harsh realities the counter-terror officials may have become accustomed to. This is exactly what the Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq fell victim to just a couple of days prior to the elections. As a result, the elections in Kandahar were delayed by a week.

There’s another disturbing aspect. Many of the senior officials that are part of the coalition forces stationed in Afghanistan view the Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces as an “Afghan-on-Afghan incident.”  Such a narrative is flawed and downright “delusional.” Every move the Taliban make, every act they orchestrate, and every idea they conceive are, without a doubt, aimed at the United States.

The insurgents in Afghanistan view the U.S. forces, and not necessarily the Afghan forces, as their bête noire. Whether the U.S. forces are directly hit by a Taliban attack or not, they need to be mindful of the fact they always remain the intended target.

That’s how the insurgents operate. They’ll hit one place, but would like the message to be decoded at another. They’ll launch attacks in Afghanistan, but would like the pain to be felt by policymakers in the United States. They send a message with every attack, but the intended audience need not be physically present in Afghanistan.

The fact that an American general was at the site of Raziq’s assassination but was not injured is irrelevant: Raziq’s long and cozy relationship with U.S. forces – his importance to their mission – means his death is a message of considerable weight to Washington… or ought to be.

Peace in Afghanistan should be the ultimate goal, but the roadmap matters.

Now that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy, has apparently inspired the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban founding member, the Taliban should be willing to concede. Baradar’s release from Pakistan has been one of the group’s long-standing demands.

Despite agreeing to what the Taliban had asked for, the government in Kabul and the U.S. officials – including Khalilzad – might still not be able to convince the Taliban to shed violence.

That’s the downside to negotiating with insurgents when they’re in the ascendancy.

U.S. policymakers need to understand that the Taliban must not view negotiations with them as a desperate move by the United States. When you show any sign of desperation, the other party is likely to take advantage.

The idea of peace talks with the Taliban is great, but negotiating with them when they’re able to launch terror strikes at will is something that has been tried before – to no avail.

Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst who teaches at National Defence University in Islamabad, Pakistan. His research focuses on South Asian security, Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies, and military-related affairs. His commentary has been published by World Policy Journal, Asia Times, RealClearDefense, and The Defense Post, the Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor and others. You may reach him at shazar.shafqat786@gmail.com