Taliban Express Hope for Total US Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Response comes as Kabul government says it will ask next administration in Washington to reconsider Doha deal

Afghan men celebrate in anticipation of the U.S-Taliban agreement to allow a U.S. troop reduction and a permanent ceasefire, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan February 28, 2020. Picture taken February 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/PARWIZ)

Afghan men celebrate in anticipation of the U.S-Taliban agreement to allow a U.S. troop reduction and a permanent ceasefire, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan February 28, 2020. Picture taken February 28, 2020

(photo credit: REUTERS/PARWIZ)

ISLAMABAD – The Taliban have expressed hope that US policy in Afghanistan will remain unchanged after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, and that the Doha peace agreement will be fully implemented.

The agreement, signed by the US and the Taliban in February in the Qatari capital, called for the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops within 14 months if the Islamist group upholds the terms of the deal.

“Based on mutual respect, the… Taliban want to establish a fruitful and working relationship with all countries, including the United States,” Zabiullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesperson, told The Media Line from an undisclosed location.

“We strongly believe that every issue related to peace and stability in the country must be resolved through dialogue,” Mujahid continued.

“We inked the peace agreement with the US government, not with any specific person,” he said. “Regardless of whoever is in power in the US, both sides are obligated to abide by that agreement.”

The Taliban’s response comes as the Afghan government says “the newly elected US president must reconsider the Doha peace deal.”

Muhammad Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice president, on Monday asked the US administration to reevaluate the conditional peace accord with the Taliban.

“We [the Afghan government] did not sign the Doha agreement, so why are the Taliban insisting we abide by it?” Danish told a gathering in Kabul, according to the Ariana News Agency. “We were not a part of these talks, so we have no obligation regarding the accord’s provisions.”

He added that “the Taliban’s inflexibility is the main cause of the existing stalemate in the intra-Afghan talks” taking place in Doha.

The Taliban, in its first official response to the US presidential election, said “the Doha Agreement between the United States and the Taliban is an excellent document for ending the war and for a better future for both countries.”

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The press release continued: “The withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan, noninterference in our country and not allowing the use of Afghanistan’s soil to threaten America is in the interest of both our peoples and nations.”

The Taliban also warned that the coming administration “must be wary of elements who want to keep the United States in conflict to further their interests.”

Afghani President Ashraf Ghani congratulated President-elect Biden on his apparent electoral win and wrote on Twitter: “Afghanistan looks forward to continuing/deepening our multilayered strategic partnerships with the United States – our foundational partner – including in counter-terrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan.”

Benjamin Minick, a San Diego-based Middle East and global military analyst, told The Media Line that the president-elect “intends to keep a small force in Afghanistan” in case of terrorism or flare-ups of fighting in the region.

“Biden supports the idea of a withdrawal of troops from the region, but his timetable will be different than that of President [Donald] Trump,” Minick said.

“The concept of maintaining stability in the region is not lost on Joe Biden, but there are no indications of how big the remaining force might be. Biden is not a fan of using troops and prefers to use technology such as drones and smart weapons to engage targets and enforce his policies,” he said.

Minick added that it would be “interesting” to see how a Biden administration uses the military intelligence at its beck and call.

“Biden does not have a great track record of paying attention to such things. As of this moment he has promised to stand firm on his decisions. However, his past choices give a cause for concern,” he stated.

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line that a Biden policy was “likely to be very similar” to that of President Trump and former president Barack Obama.

“Biden may not wish to rock the boat and completely scrap Trump’s attempted agreement with the Taliban, given that, by and large, it is not in any major conflict with the Democrats’ preferred policies,” she said.

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“Biden will likely leave some small contingent of US troops to avoid being accused of abandoning the region to terrorism, as Obama was,” she added.

“The war, at least the way it has been fought for the last 19 years, has been unpopular and tiresome for the majority of Americans, and Biden is not running on a particularly hawkish platform,” Tsukerman noted.

“In general, the [new] administration will likely push to show its willingness to coordinate its counter-terrorism actions with other regional players. There is a possibility of more direct coordination with Pakistan as well,” she said.

“A very active and aggressive US policy should not be expected. At the same time, Biden will not wish to grant Trump credit for any major peace deal if it is seen as something likely to be effective, so he may change the timeline of the events if he comes to believe that the Taliban are likely to be more conciliatory toward his administration until the bulk of [US] troops are fully withdrawn,” she said.

Adeeb Z. Safvi, a leading Karachi-based defense analyst, says that “when we look at the history of changes in the White House, it is very clear that the US policy on core issues does not change significantly” with a new president.

“Furthermore, in every country in the world that claims to be a democracy, the institutions control the foreign policy domain. The president of the US also operates within this paradigm,” Safvi told The Media Line.

“US foreign policy is [the product of] a bipartisan consensus. Regardless of whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, there is no change in the foreign policy,” he noted. “They [US presidents] have the same attitude toward other countries, and the sole aim of their actions is to protect America’s superiority and American interests around the world.”

Nadir Khanzada, a Kabul-based former member of the Afghan parliament, told The Media Line that “in the past, Joe Biden spoke publically against the dignity of our country, but he never criticized Trump’s Afghan policies during [the presidential] debates. So the majority of Afghans believe that Joe Biden will continue Donald Trump’s policies in Afghanistan.”

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Khanzada adds: “Biden may have a different strategy, but hopefully, as the president of the United States, he will respect the wishes of his fellow countrymen that all American troops must be repatriated.”

Meanwhile, violence has intensified throughout the country as the Taliban continually target Afghan security forces. At the same time, ISIS and other terrorist groups are carrying out regular suicide attacks on educational institutions, causing heavy casualties.

In the last 24 hours, at least 27 persons, including security officials, were killed in various parts of the country, local police sources confirmed to The Media Line.

The office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its quarterly report on November 6 that attacks against Afghan security forces and civilians were 50% higher in the last three months when compared to the previous quarter. It reported 2,561 civilian casualties, including 876 deaths, during this period.

“The Taliban is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine the Afghan security forces and [the Afghan government], but [to] remain at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the [US-Taliban] agreement, probably to encourage a US troop withdrawal and set favorable conditions for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan,” the report said, quoting the US Defense Department.

The Pentagon told SIGAR that if Taliban violence continues at its “unacceptably high” rate, this “could undermine the [Doha] agreement.”

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