An unwinnable war is now a potential opportunity for diplomatic victory. That is what President Donald Trump, U.S. Special Representative Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and Khalilzad’s team have achieved with the help of Qatar and Pakistan through Saturday’s accord with the Taliban.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement is no peace deal. At its core, it exchanges a full U.S. military withdrawal for Taliban counterterrorism guarantees. But it does more than that. It includes a Taliban commitment, in exchange for the release of some five thousand prisoners, to participate in a political dialogue with other Afghan leaders, including those from President Ashraf Ghani’s government, on their country’s future. And in doing so, the agreement forged by Khalilzad and lead Taliban negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, provides a real pathway to responsibly end America’s longest war and the broader forty-year Afghan civil war.
On Saturday, an emotional Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored the historic opportunity before Afghan leaders, stating that they must not fail to seize it. He implored them to think beyond their personal interests.
The ball is now in the court of Afghanistan’s leaders. The Taliban appear to have implicitly consented to Ghani playing a lead role in forming the committee of Afghans with whom they will negotiate. But Ghani, unfortunately, has not changed his stripes. His priority remains staying in power by any means, even if that requires upending the peace process.