It has been an open secret that Donald Trump’s envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad has been having ‘secret’ talks with the Taliban about the withdrawal of some of the 13,000 US troops from that country as part of a larger peace deal. Ending US involvement in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria were Trump’s key promises in his election campaign and the lack of achieving any of those may have been heavy on his mind so the fact of there being negotiations over troop withdrawals were not a surprise.
It appeared that there had been some progress and apparently a ‘secret’ meeting had been arranged at Camp David between Trump, the Taliban, and the Afghan president who, much to his annoyance, had hitherto not been involved in the negotiations. But yesterday Trump, using the medium of (what else?) Twitter, abruptly canceled the meeting.
US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had announced a peace deal “in principle” with the Taliban on Monday.
As part of the proposed deal, the US would withdraw 5,400 troops from Afghanistan within 20 weeks. However Mr Khalilzad said final approval still rested with Mr Trump.
In exchange for the US troop withdrawal, the Taliban would ensure that Afghanistan would never again be used as a base for militant groups seeking to attack the US and its allies.
But the Taliban had never agreed to end their violent campaign against Afghan and foreign forces while the peace talks were taking place.
The reason given by Trump for the cancellation was because of a bomb attack by the Taliban on Thursday that killed 12 people including a US soldier, with Trump saying “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
Trump seems to be unaware that it is sometimes the case that just prior to a peace deal, the warring factions increase attacks in order to try and gain more leverage in the talks. He seems to have forgotten that in its wars, the US heavily attacks in order to first pressure the other side to come to the negotiations and then to try and create pressure on them to give ground in the talks. The US calls this ‘negotiating through strength’. It too much to expect Trump to know of the massive US bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, at a time during the Vietnam war when Henry Kissinger was supposed to be having peace talks with the North Vietnamese, in order to pressure the North Vietnamese to give concessions.
Furthermore, there have been ongoing attacks during the current talks so this latest attack was nothing new.
The capital has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the US and the insurgents reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the Pentagon pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.
So why cancel the summit meeting at the last minute? And why publicize the cancellation so heavily? Who knows with Trump? He may have decided at the last minute that he may not be able to sell the deal to the US public and may be criticized as selling out, betraying the Afghan people, and ‘losing’ Afghanistan, especially given that the US-supported Afghan government was shut out of the negotiations and has not been happy about it. After the cancellation was announced, he has been roundly criticized, even by some Republicans for having scheduled the Camp David talks in the first place.
It must be hell negotiating on behalf of Trump. You can never be sure when he will pull the rug out from under your feet.