The United States is trying to save the peace process in Afghanistan after a new wave of violence – but it seems determined to continue in any case with the withdrawal of its troops after nearly 19 years of war.
“There is no alternative,” said US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Friday.
After spending more than a year negotiating the historic agreement signed on February 29 by Washington and the Taliban, the diplomat resumed his shuttle between Kabul and Doha to put pressure on the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Objective: to put back on track a whole effort which threatens every day a little more to collapse.
The agreement paved the way for a total withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by mid-2021, 20 after their invasion to oust the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
But unprecedented direct peace negotiations between the rebels and the Kabul government, which were supposed to start over two months ago, have gone unheeded. And President Ashraf Ghani has just announced the resumption of offensives against the Taliban.
He was responding to an attack on Tuesday against a maternity hospital in Kabul, which killed 24 people including newborns.
– “Particularly horrible” –
The United States quickly took care to clear the Taliban, accusing the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group of being behind this “appalling” act.
And they immediately urged the government and the Taliban to cooperate against IS and relaunch the peace process.
“The American strategy does not take into account the anger of Afghan public opinion, or that of the Afghan government, faced with this particularly horrific surge of violence even in an Afghanistan yet accustomed to horrors,” said Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars think tank.
We feel in the Americans a desire not to record the failure of their unprecedented peace effort.
Zalmay Khalilzad assured journalists on Friday that the insurgents were respecting their part of the contract conditioning the American withdrawal, in any case “the letter” of the agreement of February 29. They do not attack the American forces and refrain from attacking the main cities, he noted, stressing that they had not yet formally committed to cease all offensive against the Afghan forces.
On the other hand, he acknowledged that the high level of violence was not in accordance with the “spirit” of the commitments, as witnessed on Thursday by a “very negative” attack against the Afghan army claimed by the Taliban in the is from the country.
– “Violation of the mind” –
Despite this “violation of the spirit” of the Doha agreement, the envoy assured that the United States continued to withdraw its troops.
“The key condition for the United States is that the Taliban keep their commitment to counterterrorism”, by countering groups like Al-Qaeda or IS, he said. “He’s number one.”
The start of inter-Afghan negotiations does not seem to be an absolute condition for the continuation of the American disengagement.
“It would be better if the inter-Afghan negotiations started when we still have substantial forces in southern Afghanistan,” said Zalmay Khalilzad only.
Because in Washington, despite the approach of the presidential election in November, Donald Trump’s desire to end this “endless war” is fairly consensual – even if a handful of neoconservatives continue to criticize concessions deemed too generous to the Taliban .
How, then, force the government and the insurgents to finally sit at the same table?
The more time passes, the more it “creates opportunities for those who do not want the peace process or for other events that poison the atmosphere,” said AFP member Laurel Miller. conflict prevention organization International Crisis Group.
For this former American emissary for Afghanistan, the United States still has the weapon of financial aid, vital for this country on an international infusion. President Ghani and his political opponent Abdullah Abdullah also seemed to reach a compromise when American diplomacy slashed a billion dollars in aid to protest against their procrastination.
But the Americans no longer have any real means of military pressure.
“The current American administration has made it clear that it wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Threatening to stay would therefore not be very credible,” said Laurel Miller.
“In the end, the United States cannot decree the peace process. It can only pressure the parties,” she said, “but only the Afghans can make it happen.”