Slow Surrender

Media Coverage | June 10, 2019

United States and Afghanistan peace talks bereft of a "mutually hurting stalemate"

The latest round of talks held in the second week of May 2019 between the United States (U.S.) and Taliban left US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressing frustration about the “slow progress” of the peace talks, even as dead bodies continued to pile up high. This was the sixth such meeting between the two sides since the process commenced in October 2018, and there have also been secret meetings before the engagement turned overt and high-level. The six rounds of peace talks have yielded a tentative “draft agreement” on two issues: first, Taliban’s primary concern with withdrawal of “Foreign Forces”; and second, on assurances that Afghan territory will not become a base for use by international terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS), to hurt the US or any other country.

In theory, a conflict is ripe for resolution if a "mutually hurting stalemate" prevails, at which stage the conflict is essentially deadlocked, and no actor can unilaterally “escalate to victory and this deadlock is painful to both of them (although not necessarily in equal degree or for the same reasons), they seek an alternative policy or way out.” The important condition here is not the existence of an objective mutually hurting stalemate, but rather that both sides perceive it as such, regardless of what the objective state of the conflict is.

The evidence from the conflict in Afghanistan demonstrates that the current peace process does not satisfy the criteria for the existence of a mutually hurting stalemate. This is because the conflict is not militarily in a static state, and because the stalemate is not perceived to be mutually hurting by Taliban. Indeed, the Taliban not only view the current state of conflict as a stage from where they can escalate to a position of strength, but also as one where the stalemate is not necessarily damaging to their position in the battlefield or on the negotiating table.

Crucially, the Taliban’s assurances belie facts on the ground. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project, during the first four months of 2019, the Taliban military offensive increased in the month of March, even as offensive operations by the state decreased. This was followed by the official announcement of the spring offensive by the Taliban on April 12, 2019, after which Taliban-led attacks spiked sharply. This is corroborated further by SIGAR’s April Quarterly Report, which says that the average monthly enemy-initiated attacks have risen by 19% from November 2018 to January 2019.

Read the full article on the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EastWest Institute