As peace negotiations between the United States and Taliban continue this week in a sprawling Qatar resort in an effort to end the 18-year war, Afghanistan’s top security official has warned that reaching an agreement with the insurgency without the government could amount to dishonoring the 9/11 victims and U.S. troops who lost their lives.
“It would be a shame if a deal was made with the terrorists who killed more than 5,400 Americans, and if they were given control of the lives of the Afghan people. That would be a win for those terrorists,” Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan (NSA) who previously served as the Ambassador to the United States, told Fox News on a visit to the U.N. Mission in New York on Tuesday. “It would also dishonor the one million Americans who have served in Afghanistan.”
The ongoing peace talks are believed by many to be a final hope and necessary approach to bring an end to the bloody and endless war which was spurred soon after the 9/11 attacks after the Taliban, which then officially controlled Afghanistan, refused to relinquish its support and safe-harboring of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.
The Taliban – which is not a formally designated foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. – has so far doggedly refused to include the Afghan government in the conversation, mandating that they will only speak directly to the United States. Part of the group’s uncompromising instruction is that the United States essentially pull out its entire troop presence, which critics consider an American surrender and a Taliban victory.
But as the discussions prolong in lavish boardrooms abroad, Mohib said they are being left to counter mass security threats orchestrated by the very group the U.S is talking too.
“We see the Taliban are preparing for large-scale attacks throughout the country so we are preparing for that. We have captured large amounts of explosives. They are not pausing as they talk,” he continued. “They are trying to increase their activity. We are trying to prevent them from killing civilians and wreaking more havoc on Afghanistan.”
Yet in Mohib’s view, the Taliban can “absolutely not” be trusted to live up to any promises from its side of the bargain should a final agreement be inked.
“How can you trust a terrorist group? The Taliban have been asking for things, and they have been given everything they have asked for and have not delivered on anything since. Their demand was that they wanted to talk to the U.S. directly, one discussion and then they would switch to an inter-Afghan dialogue so that a deal could be reached,” he said. “That has not been the case, they are still standing on what they want.”
The Afghan government has also been contradictory on its stance – on some occasions advocating for talks and at other times pushing back against the process.
While precise talking points have been shrouded in secrecy, it is widely known that U.S negotiators have insisted that Afghanistan must not be used as a stomping ground for terrorist groups. Yet the Taliban has refused, only specifying that the country will not be utilized as a base for international attacks.
“Their wish is for a total U.S. withdrawal and that continues to be their demand. But they are not willing to budge on their support of terrorist activity and terrorist groups. They can’t move away from their DNA,” Mohib said.
In his view, the U.S had been on a streak of steady success toward stability under the direction of the Trump administration. In August 2017, President Trump – who has long bemoaned the cost and lack of clear victory in the conflict – unveiled a new “South Asia” strategy in a bid to put pressure on the Taliban, which involved an increase in troop numbers and put pressure on Pakistan to expel Taliban leadership believed to be on its soil.
“That was the best strategy ever announced for Afghanistan. It was extremely successful. It combined all of the U.S. administrative powers – from policy to diplomatic to the military – to put pressure on the Taliban and those countries who we were using the Taliban as proxies and providing sanctuaries,” Mohib explained, stressing that the new strategy had changed the rules of engagement.
A prominent part of that change was that the U.S was then allowed to support the Afghan security forces to put pressure on the Taliban.
“In the past, they could roam around the country freely, and if they didn’t attack Americans, the Americans would not be able to provide support to the Afghan forces to go after them,” he continued. “And (before Trump) the countries that were providing financial support to the Taliban were also having a free hand.”
Nonetheless, Mohib pointed out that the plans put in place to track and target the Taliban’s funding chain – which avoids the formal banking system and is funneled through the traditional hawala system – have been “sidetracked” amid the peace talks, all as Afghan forces fight on.
“The Americans are supporting us, but this is not an American war. It’s the Afghan forces that are fighting, the Afghan forces who are dying, the Afghan forces who are on the frontlines,” he said, pointing out that some 45,000 Afghans have been killed in the line of duty in the last five years alone.
“We understand that the Americans are fatigued by their support to the security forces. We want them to know it’s not their war,” Mohib stressed, also noting that the war is "not a civil war" and alleged that regional powers, namely Pakistan, continue to play a pivotal support role to the Taliban.
“If America would like to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, they can do that. All we ask is that they do it responsibly and we work out a timeline so that we have a fighting chance,” Mohib added. “That’s all we ask.”