December 1, 2019
President Donald Trump during a visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day surprised the world by announcing that the United States had resumed talks with the Taliban and surprised the Taliban by suggesting that the implementation of a ceasefire was on the negotiating table.
Shortly after Trump’s announcement the Taliban underscored that their stance has not changed – they maintain the same position held before Trump suspended peace talks in September.
Mawolana Jalaluddin Shinwari, a former official during the Taliban regime, reinforced the position that a halt in violence will only come after a deal is inked.
“The agreement will be signed first, then a ceasefire will be announced. The Taliban’s big secret and reason for signing an agreement is to make sure that the group has a guarantee from the U.S. – build trust and then declare a ceasefire,” Shinwari told Tolo News on November 30.
The Taliban told Al Jazeera that they have held a few informal meetings with U.S. counterparts in Doha recently. However, this came just two days after the Taliban planted a roadside bomb in Kunduz province that killed 15 civilians – including six young girls and two children – in an ominous reminder that implementing a cessation to hostilities will be no easy task.
The question is whether, even after a deal is reached, the Taliban representatives have the power to ensure all members of the insurgent group will follow orders and abide a ceasefire. Since negotiations began questions loomed over the extent to which the Taliban delegates represent the movement.
During meetings in Doha, as the talks accelerated earlier this year, Taliban representatives told U.S. officials that they had no authority to even discuss a ceasefire and had to get permission from their “leadership.” But others raised doubts if Taliban lieutenants in the field even backed the entire idea of negotiating with Washington.
A deal in itself may ironically be the very trigger for an escalation in violence. In fact, the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CSR) in a report released in early November said American officials are worried that Taliban fighters are going to swell the ranks of IS-Khorasan if their leadership reaches a peace deal with infidels.
However, the recent prisoner exchange that saw the Afghan government hand over Taliban captives, including a Haqqani leader, in exchange for two Western professors was a sign of good faith and perhaps progress can be made on issues like a ceasefire.
Moreover, there are some who have suggested that the Taliban are not as fragmented as people believe, evidenced by their ability to sustain the three-day Eid ceasefire in 2018.
Andrew Watkins, a UN analyst who served with the U.S. army in Afghanistan, has argued that even the Haqqani Network, once a semi-autonomous hardline faction, has grown interdependent and enmeshed with Taliban central.
“Sirajuddin Haqqani, the faction’s leader for 20 years, presides over the Taliban council responsible for combating the Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan, and has served as the Taliban’s number two leader since 2015,” Watkins said in a War On The Rocks piece in September. “At first, many predicted that he would come to dominate the movement and thus prevent any peaceful resolution to the conflict. It has not been as widely acknowledged that Sirajuddin’s accession to top levels of Taliban leadership was critical to bringing different factions of the group back into line, at a time of open dissent.”
Yet the other question lies on the U.S. side for the Trump administration is facing resistance from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress who appear bent on complicating the entire process. In fact, lawmakers actually introduced a bipartisan measure that would handcuff the White House in finalizing any pact with the insurgents.
“Congress must assert its oversight authority in the event that the Trump administration restarts negotiations with the Taliban,” Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on November 21.
Trump, according to the legislation, cannot remove U.S. military forces from Afghanistan without consulting Congress. The bill also requires congressional verification within 60 days of an agreement being struck “as to whether the terms of [a] ceasefire are being met by all sides in the conflict.”
Of course, this resistance is nothing new. At the beginning of the year the Senate overwhelming passed a bipartisan resolution that opposed any accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from either Afghanistan or Syria.
The executive branch of the U.S. government has on countless occasions taken military action without congressional authorization despite the fact the power to declare war rests with Congress. Congress has, futilely, protested every time a U.S. president has flexed this seemingly unlimited executive authority.
However, it would make more sense for Congress to focus energy towards checking the president’s power to start a war as opposed to restricting his ability to end one.