July 26, 2018

In a new LISD Commentary, "Does Trump's South Asia Strategy Trump the Taliban?," non-resident associate and Afghanistan expert Joseph Mohr* analyzes the connections between the Trump administration's new Afghanistan policies and proposed peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Mohr discusses the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the new South Asia Strategy, and highlights the importance of new political and financial pressures on Pakistan and new military resources and authorizations for engagement in Afghanistan for the U.S. military in potentially bringing the Taliban to the peace table. The author also outlines additional pressures on the Taliban, including threats to financial streams and increasing questions about the group's claims to religious legitimacy. "Despite the dismissive tone of many Taliban commentators," Mohr argues, "the pressure might contribute over time in forcing the Taliban leaders to seek relief for Pakistan by engaging in a peace process." The commentary closes with an analysis of further steps that will be needed in order for peace talks with the Taliban to become a reality. 

Commentary Abstract

The loosening of restrictions on its military and diplomatic approach to Afghanistan by the Trump Administration through the new South Asia Strategy has led to gains in efficiency. More pressure is exerted on Pakistan, the primary sponsor of the Taliban, than under the previous Obama Administration. Broader rules of engagement and additional allied troops have enabled Afghan forces hold the line and avoided a Taliban military victory. The Taliban felt forced to answer the unilateral ceasefire over the end of Ramadan with their own cease-fire. Increased diplomatic flexibility for US and Russian diplomats is offering to the Taliban routes towards engagement beyond the previous insistence on negotiations with the Afghan Government (which is unacceptable for many Taliban rank and file fighters, and seems unimportant to many Taliban leaders).

Ground swell support for peace led to the march on foot from Helmand to Kabul by activists, a widespread welcoming of the declaration of the end for religious war (jihad) by thousands of Afghan clerics. 

This opportunity stands to be exploited by the Afghan Government. The political space of the parliamentary, provincial and district council elections (scheduled for October 20, 2018) should be kept open for a potential invitation to the Taliban to be extended. The Afghan Government could own more of the financial pressure over the Taliban and become as a result more relevant to the Taliban leadership, using primarily financial sanctions. President Ghani's declaration that security, rule of law and prosperity are interlinked should lead to a practical utilization of human resources in all of these fields.

About LISD Commentaries

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination supports a publication program that disseminates research conducted as part of Institute projects in a variety of formats. The published output from LISD includes policy briefs, issue reports, edited volumes, and book-length policy reports that are part of the Liechtenstein Colloquium Report series. The program also supports the e-publication of "LISD commentaries," op-ed style articles that provide analysis and insights to a broad range of current events and pressing policy issues. Past LISD commentaries have addressed issues ranging from counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Turkish elections to human trafficking, self-determination and modern diplomacy, and observations from fact-finding trips to Tehran and Kabul. LISD commentaries are written by LISD researchers, faculty associates, non-resident associates, and participants in LISD-sponsored lectures, panels, workshops, and colloquia.


* The author's real name has been omitted for security reasons.