Saturday, February 22, 2020

Is the Latest US Deal With the Taliban a Head Fake By Trump?

Moon of Alabama speculates:
[L]et us assume for a moment that the Time story is true. What price did the U.S. offer to get such a deal?
The only thing the Taliban would probably see as a sufficient price is the power in Kabul. Could the U.S. hand them the control over the Afghan government? It might be willing to do so because the current Afghan government is a bunch of quarreling clowns and thieves who get little done. The Taliban are probably the only force that could end the government's chronic corruption. Both sides might -in principal - benefit from it.
But such a new 'partnership' between the Taliban and the U.S. would have larger implications. A permanent U.S. force would not be in Afghanistan for 'counterterrorism' but to keep an eye on Pakistan, Iran, China and Central Asia.
The Pakistani military has a long leash control over the Taliban. It is possible that it would agree to some short term U.S. stay. There are some signs that the U.S. is currently doing favors to Pakistan by knocking out Pakistani militants who hide in Afghanistan: 
Over the last week, several senior members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been killed in Afghanistan. However, it’s not only the Pakistani Taliban that has suffered heavy losses. A senior member of the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), a militant organization known for targeting Pakistan’s interests, was also killed in Iran a few days ago.
The deaths of the Pakistani Taliban and BRA members comes at a time when the United States and the Afghan Taliban are on the cusp of signing a peace agreement in Afghanistan.
The deaths of several anti-Pakistan militant leaders in Afghanistan and Iran are reflective of several previous such developments where Pakistan’s push to assist Washington in Afghanistan was rewarded with an action against groups that Pakistan considers an enemy. 
But the elimination of some militants is not a long term strategic price. Pakistan depends economically on its relations with China. It is doubtful that Beijing would react kindly to a Pakistani deal that allows for a permanent U.S. force in Afghanistan. To make a long term deal with the U.S. Pakistan must be able to replace China. It would need U.S. guarantees for a large amount for economic aid over a long period that could replace what is currently coming from China.
Then there is Iran. During the last months Iran has held several talks with Taliban leaders. After the U.S. murder of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani Iran has launched a campaign to remove all U.S. forces from the Middle East. This includes the forces in Afghanistan. Iran  would not agree to permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Iran officials do not believe that the U.S. will really make a peace deal with the Taliban.
If a U.S.-Taliban deal includes a permanent U.S. force it would put the Taliban back into the anti-Iranian camp. They U.S. would certainly like that but Iran would certainly make its disagreement known by again supporting potential anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The Shia Afghan fighters who fought with Liwa Fatemiyoun under Iranian command in Syria, and who have now returned to Afghanistan, give Iran a potentially serious force. There is also the former 'Northern Alliance' which would again fight against a Taliban government in Kabul. Twenty years ago Iran supported it with weapons and money. It could again do so.
A permanent U.S. force in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan seems to require too many strategic changes to be a viable concept.
My hunch is that the Taliban agreed to allow U.S. troops to stay during some kind of ceasefire and while their upcoming talks with the Afghan government are ongoing. But a permanent Taliban agreement for U.S. troops to stay, which the U.S. will want, is a very unlikely concept.
Did the U.S. envoy Khalilzad make that up to give Trump a short term 'peace deal' and a boost for his re-election?


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