Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

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Ex-Pentagon Adviser: US-Taliban Talks an ‘Icebreaker’

AAN 2 min

Voice of America, 24 August 2018

Christopher Kolenda, who helped setting up the latest US-Taleban talks in Qatar, makes a number of important points, some sobering, about the talks’ context. He said, the “conversation between the U.S. government and the Taliban (…)  happened in full coordination with the Afghan government” and are “meant as an icebreaker to lead to a negotiating process in which the Taliban and the Afghan government begin discussions about the political future of Afghanistan.”

He said “the Taliban, for their part, have been very consistent that their political representatives in Doha are the people they have designated to engage in these talks and to engage with international actors. In some ways, these are the Taliban’s version of diplomats. They are there as people who represent the point of view of the senior leadership. (…) .what we’ve seen from the Taliban, particularly reflected during a cease-fire at the last Eid, was a level of political cohesion that surprised many people. So through my engagement on these issues, I am fairly well convinced that the political office is who they say they are.”

On the issue of a continued US military presence in Afghanistan, he said, there was “a lot of nuance”: “What they’ve said consistently, and this goes back to 2010, is that if a government formed after a political settlement, which presumably would include Taliban leaders, decides that they would like international troops to train Afghan security forces, then that’s a decision that a legitimate, inclusive government can take. Now the corollary to that, which is also very important, is that if a government, post-political settlement, said, ‘We don’t want foreign troops here at all,’ then there would be an expectation that foreign countries would respect that decision and their foreign troops would go.” And that for the Taleban “certainly violence is leverage and it’s leverage for all sides. (…) And so in these exploratory phases, the Taliban can be perfectly serious about peace, but still engaging in these major operations, because they’re trying to improve their leverage.”