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Editorial: Ponder the next move!

There is a glimmer of hope brought to the Afghans by the rejuvenation of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban that has been resumed a week ago with hope in reduction of violence and a comprehensive ceasefire. However, the peace parleys once again paused so the negotiating parties could consult their leaders. However, the pause coincidentally came on the same day as a dreadful attack by the militant group near the Bagram Airfield, located in the north of Kabul had left two civilians dead and dozens others injured. This is while a recent report revealed that the US President Donald Trump’s administration was preparing to announce a long-anticipated drawdown of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan. Drawdown, or rather a complete withdrawal, has been one of the key demands of the Taliban during the peace talks. According to reports, the official announcement concerning the troop reduction might come as early as next week but it is said its timing is still in a state of flux. The drawdown could be seen as a unilateral concession to the Taliban and would hopefully go a long way towards helping the peace negotiations.

Trump has, in the past, indicated that he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible, perhaps to win the American public’s hearts for the upcoming 2020 US presidential election. Even though the exact figure is not yet known, there are about 13,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan. In August, Trump told Fox News Radio that his administration would bring down the troop number to 8,600 and would then make a determination as to what would happen in the future. Hopefully, the report disclosing the troop drawdown is not just a concession but made part of the peace deal because otherwise, it would further weaken the US position in the talks.

This announcement comes as Trump indicated last month during his visit to Afghanistan that the Taliban would be willing to agree to a ceasefire – a public pronouncement that caught Taliban leaders off guard as the insurgents rejected it. However, as the peace talks are back on track between the US and the Taliban, it’s possible the two sides have agreed in this regard. As much as this action of troop withdrawal by the Trump administration is laudable because it would definitely help in peace, the country had better not be merely conceding to the insurgents’ demands. Afghans expect that the troop drawdown and pull-out should happen after a prospective peace deal among the US and the Taliban is inked and after the insurgents have agreed to sit at the negotiating table with the Afghan government and the political elites. This is because US withdrawal before then would put at risk the gains of the past two decades. Therefore, the US should ponder its next move and take calculated steps by making sure that this likely withdrawal concession to the Taliban is made part of the deal and that it ensures the national interests of Afghanistan.

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