Where Does Afghan Peace Process Stand After Talks Collapsed and Kashmir Locked Down?

DESPARDES — The US has been holding negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to facilitate a peace settlement in Afghanistan that would enable Trump to eventually bring home most of the 14,000 troops deployed there and bring a semblance of an end to the 17-year war that Afghan president Ghani’s spokesman Sediqq Sediqq recently called a ‘senseless war’.

But President Trump called off the talks in September after a US soldier was killed in a Taliban attack.

Trump also canceled a Camp David summit with the insurgent group on September 7 and the US military ramped up the number of air and artillery strikes it conducted in Afghanistan during the month of September.

Last week, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghan peace talks, visited Kabul for the first time since Trump ended talks in Doha with the Taliban, which continued for almost nine months. The visit came in the wake of Khalilzad’s meeting with Russian, Chinese, and Pakistani representatives in Moscow, where all parties called for the resumption of talks between the United States and the Taliban.

Germany is also reported to be helping Afghan government on the stalled talks.

The Afghan government wants to engage with peace talks, but sources told AFP the Taliban insists on dealing with the US first.

According to analyst Umari Jamal writing of the Diplomat, Trump’s cancellation of the peace talks makes his top envoy’s job more difficult. It has complicated the negotiations further as there has been change in the bargaining position of the parties directly or indirectly involved.

One such party some observers say could be India (US strategic partner in South Asia), which few weeks back –while the Taliban talks were winding down, moved in illegally into disputed Kashmir thereby raising stakes in the region considered a nuclear flashpoint.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday in an interview with international news agency AFP called President Ghani’s “7-Point Peace Plan” an unrealistic “wish list.”

The ‘wish list’ includes seeking mutual assurances from Pakistan against terrorism, and in return landlocked Afghanistan will pledge to be an active partner in trade, commerce and energy with Pakistan.

Pakistan is central to the Afghan peace talks. And Kashmir has always been Pakistan’s ‘core interest’. Introduction of its own conditions through a ‘peace plan’ underscores that the resumption of US-Taliban talks in its current form is not being welcomed by the Afghan government.

That’s a huge cul-de-sac, according to one observer. ‘We seem to be moving in the direction of pre-WWII situation,” a Pakistani defense official had said in August post-Modi’s 370 move in Kashmir, on condition of anonymity, as he’s not authorized to comment officially. The official’s comment came weeks before Trump said (in early September) that the ‘talks are dead’.