Wednesday, 13 November, 2019

Shared Afghanistan interests create opening for U.S.-Iran back channel

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Patty Aguilar | 18 August, 2019, 13:08

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad also tweeted on Monday, confirming the conclusion of this round of negotiations and said: "I am on my way back to DC to consult on next steps".

Afghan Taliban and U.S. officials have completed another round of talks but failed to announce a peace deal despite repeated claims by both sides that they are closer to an agreement to end the American longest war in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is one area where there is common ground", one source with knowledge of the correspondence told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The US has now been involved in Afghanistan for 18 years, and the ousted Taliban are not defeated but gaining strength it would seem.

Now, almost a decade since those initial secret contacts, the United States and the Taliban are apparently on the verge of agreeing to a landmark peace deal that would end the United States' longest-ever war.

Khalilzad wrote on Sunday that he hoped this year would be the last Eidul Azha in which Afghanistan is at war.

There are no signs, however, that either Tehran or Washington are ready to put aside disputes over Iran's nuclear program and USA and Iranian activities and alliances in the Mideast to cooperate on Afghanistan.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S. -Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual mistrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

"Work on agreement (has been) completed", Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Efe news, a day after the eighth round of peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban concluded in Doha, Qatar.

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He said the remaining 5.36 million are not working because of schooling, incapacitation, domestic activities or unemployment. Although the unemployment rate in the country is still staggering, the government claims to have created a lot of jobs.

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The Taliban have called the elections as "sham" and have warned the Afghan people to stay away from election-related activities. No doubt, a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would go down well with American voters as a presidential election fast approaches in 2020.

Direct contact between Iran and the United States would be a stark contrast to the tensions that took them to the brink of military confrontation after Iran downed an unmanned USA drone in the Gulf in June and Trump then halted a retaliatory air strike on Iran's coast. "It depends on how well the United States plays its hand and uses its substantial remaining leverage provided by the continued US troop presence".

"I believe we made a mistake for all those years in not agreeing to a phased process whereby the USA and the Taliban would talk through our issues first", says Blanc, who from 2009-15 was first a senior adviser to USA special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and later the deputy and then the acting special representative.

Moreover, the plan would also include mechanisms for how to tackle violations in order to prevent a single breach of the Taliban-US truce.

More than 2,400 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since then. Now all Iran is getting from the United States is that they have no common interests, the source added. In the last week, members of Congress have reiterated their position that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be deadly.

Tayyib Agha, a member of the militant group's political wing, presented the US diplomats with a road map for a negotiated end to the war.

One former Afghan official pointed out that since the 2001 USA -led invasion to oust the Taliban government, Iran has built ties to the Taliban that it could use to help shape a peace settlement and a US troop withdrawal. "This is a very good opportunity for Iran". He emphasized that the main objective of these negotiations was a peace agreement, not the withdrawal of USA troops from Afghanistan.

Pompeo has accused Iran of being a "co-conspirator" of the Taliban.

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