The negotiations between the United States and the Taliban were focused on one topic – the terms and conditions for an eventual withdrawal of U.S. and other international forces. As we all know, on September 7 the U.S. president stated publicly that a signing event for the agreement had been scheduled to occur and was now suspended. He called these talks “dead” although history shows that peace negotiations often break down and come back into existence after some time has passed, so these may come back to life. This is seen by some people as a reprieve – more time with an international presence committed to protecting the constitutional state.
Meanwhile, the United States is in the first phase of preliminary selection of candidates for the 2020 presidential elections. U.S. citizens want their country to take its troops out – a majority in a recent Pew Research Center poll say the war is no longer worth fighting – and the candidates are hearing this from voters. In public debates, almost all Democratic party candidates have said they will end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, some even going so far to give the date they would withdraw. This is echoed by the current President’s campaign promise several years ago to end the war, which is the reason why Ambassador Khalilzad pushed the talks as strongly as he could.
In other words, if the negotiations truly fail, the politically-popular alternative from the U.S. side is not to stay longer but instead to leave more quickly.
What matters now is a very difficult question: who will decide the future? If Afghans wait for the United States to resume its negotiations, that may take a long time with a continuation of the violence that drains away hope and energy from daily life for so many. If the United States resumes its negotiations but makes a deal to withdraw based on conditions the Afghan public finds unacceptable, then little progress has been made.
An alternative is for the Afghan government, no matter who wins the election this month, to start negotiations with the United States and NATO to define the end of the international security presence. Why shouldn’t the constitutionally-mandated government, in wide consultations with its own population, set the timing and conditions for this inevitable process, as long as they do so thinking about what is good for the greatest number of people?
In the end the Taliban represents a minority that is incapable of holding, let alone governing, the Afghanistan that is a reality in 2019, but no one can afford another civil war while they learn that lesson. Time is running out with U.S. elections approaching and this reprieve will not last forever. If Afghan political factions and ethnic leaders can put aside even a small amount of their historic rivalry there could be a strong and growing consensus among Afghans on how to defend their constitutional rights, relying on their extraordinarily brave National Security Forces. Let this be the coalition that decides the future.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Reporterly’s editorial stance.