WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. lawmakers from both parties, in a rare show of bipartisanship, are expressing support this week for the Trump administration’s efforts towards a peace agreement between Kabul and the Taliban to end the nearly 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Invigorated by an unprecedented ceasefire over the weekend, the lawmakers have expressed optimism that a peace pact is possible.
Republicans and Democrats recognize that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan, which has been raging since October 2001.
As a viable mechanism to begin a reconciliation process, the Trump administration has endorsed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of a truce and official recognition as a political group for the Taliban.
U.S. military troops are applying military pressure on the Taliban to bring them to the table to discuss Ghani’s offer, which the terrorist group has so far refused to endorse, Alice Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.
We need to be honest. Even with the best military in the world, it’s impossible to kill every member of the Taliban. Despite the President’s tough talk, even members of the Administration acknowledge that the war in Afghanistan will not be won on the battlefield.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, no doubt about it. Many brave Americans have perished at the hands of Taliban fighters. But the Taliban’s continued existence is a fact we need to deal with, and the old adage remains true: you don’t make peace with your friends. The Taliban refuses to talk directly with the Afghan government. They view it as illegitimate. That’s obviously made progress on reconciliation impossible.
“While leaving today would do more harm than good, our substantial military and development commitment to Afghanistan cannot be open-ended. We need to see more progress,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House panel, acknowledged.
Rep. Engel urged the Trump administration to accept the Taliban’s offer of bypassing Kabul and negotiating peace directly, a proposal that the United States has long declined to indulge, insisting that the process must be Kabul-led.
The top Democrat said:
If American interests are best served by negotiating directly with the Taliban, then we should stop kicking the can down the road. The Taliban claim that they will completely separate themselves from international terrorism and respect the rights of women and minorities. It’s time to see if they’re serious.
Rep. Engel asked Wells, “If we can talk to [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-un, certainly we can talk to the Taliban, and [if] we know the Taliban is interested in direct talks with the U.S.,” why not embrace the offer?
The top State official explained that directly negotiating with the Taliban would reinforce the terrorist group’s notion that the Afghan government is illegitimate, noting that a peace settlement involves various “sovereign issues.”
Issues such as “forms of government, the rights of individuals under the constitution, prisoners releases, confidence-building measures … have to be negotiated with Afghans and not over the heads of Afghans,” she declared.
“If we recognize them as part of the legitimate political fabric of Afghanistan; they have to recognize that the Afghan government and the many communities of Afghanistan are also part of that legitimate fabric,” Wells added.
Citing an unprecedented U.S.-backed ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul over the weekend, the House panel leaders expressed optimism that the time is ripe for negotiations to end the war.
According to the U.S. military, Kabul-led reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban is the primary goal of President Trump’s strategy to end the war, announced in August 2017.
Wells told lawmakers:
Helping to jumpstart an Afghan peace process is among Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo’s highest priorities and has been my primary focus since assuming responsibility for this account one year ago…The United States has made clear that we are prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Wells stressed the Pentagon’s viewpoint that America’s “South Asia strategy is premised on achieving a pathway to a dignified political settlement,” adding that political reconciliation amounts to “victory” under President Trump.
Wells stressed that the Trump strategy had made progress in Afghanistan, claiming that it has “slowed the Taliban’s momentum” and “creating conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace.