Daily Briefing: HISTORIC PEACE TALKS BETWEEN TALIBAN AND AFGHAN GOVERNMENT BEGIN    

Trump to Host Israel-UAE-Bahrain Peace Summit:  Jacob Kornbluh, Jewish Insider, Sept. 15, 2020 — President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani for a historic signing ceremony at the White House this afternoon. Trump will meet with Netanyahu in the Oval Office ahead of the event. 
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Flag of Afghanistan (Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:
Afghanistan Peace Talks Open in Qatar, Seeking End to Decades of War:  Mujib Mashal, NYTimes, Sept. 12, 2020
For Real Peace, Afghanistan Needs a Plan B:  Nishank Motwan, Real Clear Defense, Sept. 14, 2020
The Road to Peace in Afghanistan no Longer Runs Through Pakistan:  Fahd Humayun, Foreign Policy, Sept. 11, 2020
Briefing with Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations:  Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghaistan Reconciliation via Teleconference, U.S. Dept. of State, Sept. 11, 2020  

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Afghanistan Peace Talks Open in Qatar, Seeking End to Decades of War
Mujib Mashal
NYTimes, Sept. 12, 2020

The Taliban and the Afghan government began historic peace talks in Qatar on Saturday, aimed at shaping a power-sharing government that would end decades of war that have consumed Afghanistan and left millions dead and displaced.

If realized, a peace deal would be the first time in generations that a new form of Afghan government was not being established at the point of a gun: The current model was ushered in by the American invasion that toppled the Taliban’s harsh Islamic regime in 2001, and each previous one back to the 1979 Soviet invasion was set off by coup, collapse or conquest.

But as the Qatar talks begin, against the backdrop of an American troop pullout and grievous violence against Afghan officials and civilians, some critics of the process argued that the Taliban insurgency was still, in essence, holding a gun to the government’s head.

The peace talks opened on Saturday morning in Doha, the Qatari capital, with formal ceremonies held under tight security and strict coronavirus measures. The negotiations will be complicated at every turn by the threat of continued insurgent assaults, deep political divisions after a disputed election, decades of loss and grievance, and by foreign powers pulling Afghan factions in opposing directions.

Still, the fact that delegations from the two sides are finally coming to the table, after repeated delays, offers the nation a rare opportunity in its recent history: a chance to find a formula of lasting coexistence before the withdrawal of another foreign military creates a vacuum, potentially repeating the country’s cycle of misfortune.

“We have come here with the good will and good intention to stop the 40 years of bloodshed and achieve a countrywide and lasting peace,” Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation and the leader of the delegation from Kabul, said at the opening ceremony. “The current conflict has no winner through war and military means, but there will be no loser if this crisis is resolved politically and peacefully through submission to the will of the people.”

“We have come here with the good will and good intention to stop the 40 years of bloodshed and achieve a countrywide and lasting peace,” Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation and the leader of the delegation from Kabul, said at the opening ceremony. “The current conflict has no winner through war and military means, but there will be no loser if this crisis is resolved politically and peacefully through submission to the will of the people.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Real Peace, Afghanistan Needs a Plan B
Nishank Motwan
Real Clear Defense, Sept. 14, 2020

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani outlined what he saw as the objective for his country: “a sovereign, united, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and world, capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past two decades”. For a nation that has seen so many years of conflict and suffering, it is a goal that can’t come soon enough. And his government’s efforts to make good on the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed earlier this year by releasing more than 5000 Taliban prisoners shows the lengths to which Ghani will go to prove his commitment.

The Taliban have made no comparable concessions. The Taliban’s consistent position has been to capture state power in Afghanistan. The patronage the group receives from Pakistan demonstrates their common end goal is in direct contrast to Kabul’s objectives. This kinship is unsurprising, given Pakistan’s desire for Islamist rather than nationalist rule to consolidate its influence over Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s aim to impose a puritanical Islamic state to outlaw all other forms of ideological or political competition.

If there is to be any chance of realising the vision Ghani describes, Afghanistan desperately needs a Plan B, a strategy to protect the fragile democracy the country has built over the last two decades. Otherwise, a regression to the dark days of the past is practically inevitable.

The Taliban today remain reliant on Pakistan for their existence, while Islamabad maintains its commitment to establishing a client state. The mutual alignment of their ends meant that Pakistan provided the Taliban with strategic military, economic and political support that enabled them to grow as a movement and eventually to seize Kabul in September 1996. For the Taliban to fit in with the vision of a “united, democratic Afghanistan” would require a fundamental reorientation of the movement, and a complete jettisoning of their malign character, together with a seismic shift in Pakistan’s treatment of Afghanistan as a client state.

Speaking at a recent event in Kabul, Afghanistan’s First Vice President and former head of intelligence Amrullah Saleh remarked, “What have the Taliban contributed or brought except for destruction?”

On Wednesday last week, Saleh, a fierce opponent of the Taliban, survived a targeted attack in Kabul that killed 10 people. In predictable fashion, no one claimed responsibility, and the Taliban denied any involvement. But such attacks bear the hallmarks of the Taliban’s playbook, which is to attack, then to deny, and to still get everyone to ride on the peace train. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK– Ed.]
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The Road to Peace in Afghanistan No Longer Runs Through Pakistan
Fahd Humayun
Foreign Policy, Sept. 11, 2020

Toward the end of August, a delegation from the Afghan Taliban led by the group’s deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, travelled to Islamabad. There, they met with Pakistan’s foreign minister and head of its Inter-Services Intelligence, the military’s intelligence wing. The first gathering, held at Pakistan’s Foreign Office, was meant to give boost to an intra-Afghan negotiation process that has been racked by persistent delays, including over the release of Taliban inmates by Afghan authorities.

Baradar’s meetings seem to have been helpful. A Taliban negotiating team is now in Doha, Qatar, and is set to hold its first direct peace talks with representatives of the Afghan government. But in these talks, the Taliban will be led by Mullah Abdul Hakim, a hardline cleric and the Taliban’s de facto chief justice, and not Baradar, who was central to the Taliban signing a peace deal with the United States back in February. The change is part of a broader trend of Pakistan losing influence over a conflict it was once seen to script.

For years, Islamabad has maintained an uneasy relationship with Baradar, who, now in his fifties, leads the Taliban office—essentially its political arm—from Doha. Before 2018, Baradar spent eight years in Pakistani custody. His eventual release came at the behest of U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who had been tasked with finding a way to get talks between the Taliban and Washington going. Deft maneuvering by both Islamabad and Washington subsequently paved the way for nine rounds of negotiations, culminating in the earlier February deal this year. That first Doha agreement provided for drawing down approximately 7,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan and the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the Taliban this August. But talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which were to follow in the summer, have taken longer than expected. The coronavirus—and the public airing of internal political disagreements between Afghanistan’s political powerbrokers—have led to worries that Kabul may not have what it takes to strike, let alone sustain, a provisional power-sharing deal with the Taliban.

The absence of a credible guarantor of peace in Afghanistan is a big problem for everyone involved. For its part, the West has long believed that Pakistan could play that role but is not quite fully exercising its power. In turn, the United States frequently tried to ramp up the pressure on its erstwhile partner. A recent controversial attempt was through the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, which placed Pakistan on a grey list in 2019 for potential money laundering and terrorist financing. That designation threatens Islamabad’s ability to borrow internationally.

But on some indicators, the United States’ relationship with Pakistan has also improved. Officials in both countries are more careful about accusing each other of sabotaging regional stability. Pakistan’s commitment to regional stabilization and peace notionally underlines its pursuit of East-West connectivity, which could greatly increase Afghanistan’s trade and economic prospects. And the United States, for its part, seems to have done a volte-face on its hard-line policy towards the Haqqani Network, a group it long accused Islamabad of harboring, but which Islamabad insisted was dislocated after it officially launched counterterror operations in 2014. Indeed, many Pakistani observers find it ironic that after initially demanding that Pakistan eliminate the Haqqanis, the United States is now taking the lead in encouraging the group’s public rehabilitation. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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Briefing with Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations
Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghaistan Reconciliation via Teleconference
U.S. Dept. of State, Sept. 11, 2020  

MS ORTAGUS:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, everyone, for joining.  I apologize.  I know that we gave you very last minute notice about this call, but as you can imagine, there are a number of scheduling issues that we have up in the air.  And we wanted to make sure definitely get Zal with all of you to sort of set the stage for what to expect tomorrow in Doha.  So it sounds like a actually good number of you were still able to dial in despite the – despite the last minute notice, so thank you – thank you so much for doing it.

I think it’s incredibly poignant that we’re having the call this morning on the morning of 9/11.  Probably like many of you, I’ve had my television on watching the day of remembrance and the names called.  And it’s just I think a reminder to all of us at the State Department how serious what we’re doing is and how important it is to America’s history on 9/11 and to our future.

So just to remind everybody of a few housekeeping details:  This call is on the record, but the contents of the call are embargoed until the end of the call.  I know a number of you are going to have questions.  And so just a reminder that you can even get in the queue now if you’d like by dialing one and then zero.  However, we’d respectfully ask since we have – I think we’ve got over 70 people on the call already.  In order for us to get to as many of your colleagues as possible, if you could try to keep it to one question and to be succinct just so we can try to take as many questions as possible because Zal does have limited time.

So on that note we’re fortunate to have Ambassador Khalilzad today on the line to talk about the launch of the Afghanistan peace negotiations which will kick off in Doha tomorrow.  And I think all of you saw that the President announced yesterday afternoon in his press conference that Secretary Pompeo is headed over.  And he is in the air as we speak.

As the Secretary has said, Afghans will soon be sitting at the table together to discuss how to deliver what the Afghan people are demanding: a reconciled Afghanistan with a government that reflects the country and that isn’t at war. We know this is just the beginning of a long and challenging process, but we are pleased to have arrived at this historic moment and to have an agreement in place that ensures America is never again threatened by international terrorists from Afghan soil.  I’m now going to turn it over to my dear friend Zal who I’m sure all of you are anxious to hear from.  Zal, go ahead.

AMBASSADOR KHALILZAD:  Well, thank you very much, Morgan.  Good morning or good afternoon, everyone.  I’m delighted to be with you.  Tomorrow obviously as Morgan said is a momentous day for Afghanistan. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
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For Further Reference:

Remarks by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo at the Inauguration of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, Doha, Qatar U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, Sept. 2020 —Good afternoon. I’m honored to join you today. I offer my thanks to His Excellency the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar, and my friend, Shaykh Mohamed, for Qatar’s longstanding support for this effort. Today is a truly momentous occasion. Afghans have at long last chosen to sit together and chart a new course for your country. This is a moment to dare to hope.

Let’s Make This the Last 9/11 with US Troops in Afghanistan:  Daniel Depetris, The Hill, Sept. 11, 2020 — It took seven months of bickering about prisoners, multiple trips from U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Doha, Kabul, and Islamabad and a few breakdowns along the way.

Trump’s ‘They Want to Do Nothing but Fight Wars’ Smear Was Nasty—And Inaccurate Thomas Joscelyn, FDD, Sept. 9, 2020 — Speaking on Monday, President Trump once again decried the so-called “endless wars,” claiming that U.S. soldiers are “in love with” him because he is extricating America from those conflicts.

America’s Superdense Foreign Policy Black Hole:  Jacob Siegel, Tablet, Aug. 3, 2020 — Last month, Democrats and Republicans in Congress once again joined hands to block White House efforts at bringing American soldiers home from the war in Afghanistan.

The ‘Spies and Commandos’ of Afghanistan: George Friedman, Geopolitical Futures, June 30, 2020 — The media exploded late last week with reports that Russia had paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and Afghan troops.