Does Trump's South Asia Strategy Trump the Taliban?
In this commentary, 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. 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.
* The author's real name has been omitted for security reasons.