Taliban Snub US on Counter Terrorism
The first in-person talks between the US and the Taliban after US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan were held in Doha, Qatar on October 9-10. These followed two days of discussions between visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman with Pakistani officials in Islamabad with the Pakistani batting for the US to engage the Taliban, unfreeze Afghan Central Bank money in America, as also help releasing international funds to avoid an economic meltdown in Afghanistan. Possibly, Pakistan facilitated the US-Taliban dialogue by continuing to play the façade of ‘good boy’.
An American inter agency delegation, notably without Zalmay Khalizad, travelled to Qatar to meet senior Taliban representatives. On conclusion of the talks, US State Department spokesman Ned Price stated that the US side focused on security and terrorism concerns, safe passage for US citizens including their Afghan partners and other foreign nationals, human rights including meaningful participation of women and girls in of Afghan society. He also said both sides also discussed American provision of humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people, and that discussions were can did and professional with US reiterating that Taliban will be judged on its actions, not on words only.
From the Taliban side, Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi said their focus was on humanitarian aid, implementation of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020, lifting the US ban on the reserves of Afghanistan’s central bank. Muttaqi added that Afghanistan is looking to the international community to help solve its financial woes of a country that is heavily dependent on international aid with an evolving humanitarian crisis on the ground. He also said that the US would offer Afghan people vaccines against COVID-19.
At best these in-person talks could be termed the first step forward but bridging disagreements will not be easy with much at stake on both sides and a truly ‘inclusive’ government in Afghanistan unlikely given the rigid and inflexible ideological beliefs of the ruling Taliban.
For the US, its leverages are: Afghan money frozen in America; influence over international financial and aid organizations to help Afghan economy; humanitarian aid, and; vaccines for COVID-19. But on the Taliban side the main leverage is the lives of US citizens, America’s Afghan supporters and other foreign national stuck in Afghanistan. In addition is perhaps the promise not to attack America and American interests – secret part of the US-Taliban deal signed in February 2020? The Taliban has indicated leniency for these individuals to go out of Afghanistan but the temperament of Taliban is known to fluctuate less their rigid ideological beliefs.
The numbers of civilians in Afghanistan who want to get away from Taliban rule is not small either. US officials say they are in contact with dozens of Americans and legal permanent residents who wish to leave Afghanistan. Besides, there are thousands of US-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution still in the country. On Oct 11, the US State Department and the UK Foreign Ministry warned their citizens based in the Afghan capital of potential threats and attacks on the Kabul Serena Hotel and have asked them to stay away from it.
Mass killings of Shia through terrorist bombings in Afghanistan are continuing. These are claimed by ISKP which may or may not be the case but the ISKP anyway were established through the CIA-ISI alliance in Peshawar. Taliban’s rigid ideology and hatred toward minorities was also demonstrated when they vandalized the Gurdwara in Kabul recently.
Notably, Taliban’s political spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told media a day before the US-Taliban talks at Doha that the Taliban will not cooperate with the US for containing the Islamic State/ISKP in Afghanistan.On September 1, General Mark Milley, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff had indicated in a press briefing that the US military is considering coordinating with the Taliban in their apparent shared effort to defeat the Islamic State group’s branch in Afghanistan known as ISIS-K or ISKP.
This may be termed a setback for the US which had ignored the Taliban-Haqqani-Pakistan alliance. Moreover, despite Taliban assurance that Al Qaeda will not be allowed to use Afghan territory for terrorism, Taliban never broke its ties with Al Qaeda. Now the Taliban has snubbed the US by refusing to cooperate in counter-ISKP operations. But there is a good reason why the Taliban has refused to cooperate with US for hunting down the ISKP.
At a recent joint press conference on October 9 in Ankara held jointly by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and visiting Venezuelan Foreign minister Felix Plasencia, Cavusoglu stated that the US has been transferring ISIS terrorists from Afghanistan to Syria. He said that the US, which from Syria brought ISIS terrorists to Afghanistan by buses and planes, should first “look at themselves” before reproaching Ankara with something. Cavusoglu called for cooperating with the Taliban government in order to prevent the strengthening of ISIS.
It has been known all these years that the ISIS was trained and armed in Turkey by British mercenaries under the watchful eye of CIA and MI-6 before they suddenly attacked Mosul in Iraq in 2014 and ushered a deluge of terrorism in Iraq-Syria. It was also known that the US was pumping the ISIS into Afghanistan via Pakistan. In one instance Russia had alleged that ISIS was airlifted from Pakistan to the Badakshan region of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, which confirms that Pakistan in effect has been America’s partner in terrorism, not counter terrorism.
This is the first time that Turkey has publicly exposed the US for the double game it has been playing using the ISIS, that too by Turkey’s foreign minister. Turkey had remained silent on the issue for years but this public revelation is the result of the US sanctioning Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for purchase of Russian S-400 air defence system in December 2020, which the Trump administration said is ‘incompatible with NATO equipment and potential threat to allied security’.
Turkey is a NATO member but the deteriorating US-Turkey relationship has strengthened the Turkey-Iran relationship particularly in support of Palestine, the Turkey-Pakistan-China relationship that affects South Asia and the Turkey-Russia relationship. That is why the Carnegie Foundation terms the US-Turkey relations in deep crisis and recommends to the Joe Biden administration a strategy of gradual rapprochement with Turkey over time to set the tone for a more positive and constructive strategic partnership and to reestablish mutual trust.
After the in-person talks with the US, the Taliban are meeting an EU delegation in Doha. EU will likely have similar concerns as the US; inclusive Taliban government, human rights, participation of girls and women in Afghan society, humanitarian aid and the like. But EU’s approach will likely be softer compared to the US because of Chinese influence, China being the largest trading partner of EU. The US-EU rift on account of AUKUS and recent Poland-EU controversy over Polish law taking precedence over EU law also works to China’s advantage.
The above developments including the continuing primacy of Pakistan to the US and alignment of radical forces in the Af-Pak region does not bode well for India. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, continues firing howlers; latest one being that if the Taliban government is not recognized by the international community, Afghanistan would become a breeding ground for terrorists!