October 27, 2017

Putting Peace Out of Reach

Featuring Stephen Tankel

Despite the past week of violence that rocked Afghanistan, including a wave of major Taliban attacks on Afghan security forces, the Trump administration appears to still be holding the door open for a negotiated settlement. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, recently credited President Donald Trump's commitment to an enhanced and open-ended military presence in Afghanistan with setting the conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. And in his first trip to the region, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed the United States would fight the Taliban and pursue "a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and [the Taliban's] full involvement and participation in government."

If this is the case, then the administration's impending decision – as reported this week – to shutter the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar is misguided at best.

There are several possible rationales for closing the office. One is that the political office gives the Taliban unfounded legitimacy and allows it to conspire with other regional actors. Likewise, it is possible that U.S. and Afghan officials who believe negotiation should begin after the Taliban is weakened militarily see the office as a hindrance. Or perhaps there is simply a sense that "there was little evidence that the office had influence" with the Taliban leadership and, with U.S. forces staying in Afghanistan indefinitely, the office no longer has much utility. Even if all these reasons were sound, they are simply not good enough to countenance the decision.

Read the full op-ed in U.S. News and World Report.

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