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US “unwilling to throw in the towel” on Afghan talks even as Taliban violence escalates


However, experts and former diplomats say the Taliban want full control of Afghanistan and will continue to seek leverage for that goal on the battlefield. The main US envoy himself admitted that the Taliban feel “emboldened” by their recent military gains in the country.

Taliban political leaders remain engaged in talks with US officials from their perch in Doha and regularly travel to capitals around the world to discuss the future of Afghanistan, but intra-Afghan negotiations in the Qatari capital continued for almost a year with no tangible result.

“The situation is very worrying and we hope that the government and the Taliban will focus on a political settlement,” the US special representative for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told an event of the Security Forum in Afghanistan. Aspen this week.

‘A fantasy’

The State Department has acknowledged that the talks, which were negotiated by Khalilzad under the Trump administration, have yet to achieve the desired outcome, but spokesman Ned Price said this week: “We are not ready to throw in the towel on diplomacy ”and insisted that there is no military solution to the conflict that has lasted for decades.

Although Price acknowledged the disparity between the Taliban’s stated commitment and their actions on the ground, he continued to assert that the Taliban want “a just and lasting solution.”

“It goes without saying that the Taliban are looking for a lasting solution. It is not in their interests to try to take power by force and to be displaced on the road after a certain period of conflict”, he said. he said Wednesday.

However, experts and former officials say the Taliban’s alleged desire for a “lasting solution” does not hold true.

“The idea that the Taliban want a negotiated political solution and will cooperate with the Afghan government is a fantasy,” Bill Roggio of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based hawkish think tank, told CNN.

“The Taliban said from the start that they would only agree to a reestablishment of the Islamic emirate and used the negotiations to achieve their goal of getting the United States out of Afghanistan,” Roggio said. “The Taliban are simply using diplomacy to deceive the United States.”

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinley said that “the idea that the Taliban is negotiating in Doha in good faith, or was, is just not true.”

“Anyone who suggests these were meaningful negotiations leading to a peace process was engaging in ambitious thinking and now we see that the Taliban have seized the opportunity on the military front, but there is no sign concession nowhere, “he said at the press conference. Aspen Security Forum event this week.

‘The lion’s share’

Taliban militants advanced on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, as well as the provincial capitals of Herat and Kandahar.

Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann noted that the talks in Qatar and the military offensive in Afghanistan are not disparate – “they are interconnected; they are two sides of the same coin.”

“If it doesn’t go well on the battlefield, then you might have more openness to political negotiations. As long as they win, I mean, you have to ask yourself, if they think they can clearly win the war, why are they making concessions? ” he told CNN.

Khalilzad said this week, “at this point they demand that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it.”

The Biden administration will not set a red line on what it would take to stop their talks with the Taliban. Neumann and others told CNN that the United States must continue to support the Afghan government and Afghan security forces if it hopes to see success in Doha, and some believe negotiations should be suspended.

“The Biden administration should walk away from talks with the Taliban now. They shouldn’t keep giving them legitimacy by continuing to talk to them. What is the point of talking? Just look at what’s going on on the pitch, Helmand can fall any day now, ”Roggio said.

A former US diplomat who has worked on Afghan issues told CNN he believed “suspension (of negotiations) should be considered.”

US “unwilling to throw in the towel” on Afghan talks even as Taliban violence escalates

Neumann told CNN the talks should continue, “but we should stop talking about the talks.”

“We must stay at the table, but we must make it clear that the Taliban can have a negotiated peace but not a negotiated surrender,” he said.

Annie Pforzheimer, who was deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Kabul from 2017 to 2018, told CNN: “I stand by the principle of negotiations, but the way the Taliban is basically using them as a means of continue to have legitimacy despite their troops committing atrocities on the ground, this cannot continue. “

State Department officials have warned that the Taliban will become “an international pariah” if they seize power by force. Pforzheimer, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN that “given the actions on the ground, it is high time the State Department tested its own theory.”

“If the Taliban want to be legitimate, then why not suspend the relief from the sanctions and list more under the sanctions in order to show the Taliban what illegitimate actions will get them?” she said. The United Nations Security Council has granted temporary exemptions from sanctions to Taliban negotiators sanctioned in Doha.

Neumann, who is the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, disagreed with the idea of ​​reimposing sanctions, arguing that “the way to put pressure on negotiations is to keep air strikes and to kill more Taliban on the ground “.

“I’m sorry, it’s brutal, but that’s what a war is. The idea that we can apply some kind of diplomatic pressure while we lose the war is absurd,” he said.

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