Disagreements about the definition of terrorism and its variants hindered progress this week in the ongoing peace negotiations between U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and Afghan Taliban narco-jihadis.
On Thursday, the New York Times (NYT) reported:
One of the most prominent issues thwarting [the peace-seeking] progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?
The answer is so important because the two sides had already agreed in principle on a framework for two crucial issues: the withdrawal of American troops, and a commitment that Afghan soil would not again be used to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, as Al Qaeda did with its strikes on Sept. 11, 2001.
That attack led the Americans to invade Afghanistan in an effort to hunt down Al Qaeda’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden.The Taliban have said they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for international attacks. American negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism.
The Taliban is responsible for the vast majority of Afghan civilians, security forces, and U.S. military forces fatalities and injuries sustained throughout the ongoing war in Afghanistan — raging since October 2001. Nevertheless, both U.S. officials and the jihadis themselves have struggled with labeling the Taliban a terrorist group, claiming it is an insurgency fighting an invading foreign power.
“If Taliban leaders were seen as conceding on the issue, it could divide their fighters,” NYT notes.
While the U.S. government has sanctioned the group as a terrorist organization, the United States has not officially designated the Afghan Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization, claiming it is an insurgency with control of large swaths of territory and aspirations to govern the country.
Soon after Trump took office, a spokesperson for his Department of State (DOS) spokesman told Breitbart News that his administration considers the Afghan Taliban to be a “terrorist organization,” noting:
Since 2002, the Afghan Taliban has been designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224…in addition…section 691(d) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 mandates that the Taliban is considered a terrorist organization for immigration purposes.
However, Trump’s DOS has yet to add the Afghan Taliban to its official list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO).
In 2017, Voice of America (VOA) observed that the prospects of peace negotiations prompted the United States to keep the group off its FTO list:
Political expedience has obligated keeping the group off the list of 61 organizations ranging from the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group to the Palestinian group Hamas, experts say.
In the case of the Taliban, the deterring factor has long been a concern that applying the terror label to the group would restrict U.S. and Afghan government diplomatic contacts with the Taliban, making peace talks more difficult.
The Taliban, which has been fighting to implement strict Islamic laws or sharia since U.S. troops removed its regime in late 2001, considers itself the only legitimate governing body of Afghanistan, dismissing the Kabul government as an American “puppet.”
Acknowledging that a military victory is impossible, the Trump administration has made the political reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban the “end-game” of its strategy to bring the war to a close.
Trump administration officials have expressed support for granting the Taliban official legitimacy as a political group.
Recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political power would grant them the opportunity to return to office in Kabul.
So far, the Taliban has refused to allow the Afghan government to participate in the ongoing negotiations while claiming they do not seek a monopoly of power.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the top commander in charge of overseeing U.S. military activity in South Asia, told lawmakers conditions in Afghanistan do not merit a United States military withdrawal.
The Trump administration has expressed a willingness to pull out American troops from Afghanistan while stressing the importance of leaving behind a residual force to ensure the Taliban keeps its promises. Nevertheless, the Pentagon has yet to receive any orders to pull out of America’s longest foreign war.
The Taliban has rejected the residual U.S. force proposal, demanding that foreign troops leave in one year.
On Friday, Al Jazeera noted, “The United States and the Taliban negotiators announced a two-day break from talks in Qatar following extensive discussion for 11 days in a renewed bid to restore peace to Afghanistan.”
“The fifth round of peace talks in Doha started on February 25 after the two sides hailed significant progress in the previous rounds of talks, also held in the Qatari capital,” it added.