Less than a week after U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation and chief U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad announced that the protracted negotiations with the Taliban are nearing completion, President Donald Trump brought an end to the ceasefire talks as retribution for the group’s killing of an American soldier. The agreement reached “in principle” would have allowed the Trump administration to begin drawing down U.S. troops from the country heading into an election year. The reports of progress in the talks with the Taliban were welcome news for advocates of military restraint and those who champion diplomacy and responsible statecraft grounded in foreign policy realism.
President Trump is right to deliver on his campaign promise to bring our troops home. The breakdown in the talks should not impede the Trump administration from ending our “forever war” and leaving Afghanistan after close to two decades. It was always doubtful whether the Taliban had any serious intent to end hostilities with the United States or that the group could be trusted to hold up its end of the bargain. The cessation of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan should not depend on negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban and could still be accomplished regardless of developments on that front.
Our strategic imperative to leave could be realized by adopting a strategic realignment on three fronts in our Afghan policy. First, Washington should encourage the Afghan government to deal directly with the major regional stakeholders in its neighborhood who have a permanent interest in a secure and stable Afghanistan.
Second, the Trump administration needs to use its leverage with its allies in Riyadh and Islamabad to undermine the Taliban's external sources of support via instrumenting a “maximum pressure” campaign against rogue elements among Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and private Wahhabi donors in Saudi Arabia.