The current international war in Afghanistan is ongoing since 2001. The military defeat of the Taliban seems unachievable without a mass slaughter, razing, and mass mobilisation of foreign armies in full occupation and colonisation of the country.
The continuation of war with special rights and immunities for US and NATO troops is an effort to maintain in perpetuity as long as this Transastlantic Alliance wishes to maintain significant military bases in the country. Maintaining a war for the sake of maintaining influence and military rights is made difficult by Afghanistan’s proximity to and special interest for major regional and global powers that are threatened by Western presence and unbalanced by the consequences of social disarray and bloody civil war in their neighbourhood. I’m thinking here of the following countries: China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India.
Alternatively, the Western countries could play for denial of access. This means that they could choose to do what has now been done in Somalia for generations: continually fuel the flames of internal war and maintain a beholden and dependent internal party as a rump state within a besieged capital city beset by insurgents and autonomous provinces. This would deny Afghan parties that the West does not see as amenable to their interests from taking full control of the country while also trying to bar rival foreign countries from predictably and reliably building their own relations within Afghanitan.
For example, China is interested in building gas and oil pipelines that run through the country. Yet this is difficult to do when workers could be killed and the infrastructure destroyed during ongoing warfare.
Afghanistan has a special role in the global balance of power because of its location within the human geography of Asia. I wrote about this earlier.
Another course is open to Western powers, namely to the ruling class that seeks competitive advantage within the framework that envisions a zero-sum division and distribution of the world’s social resources (the Taliban’s zero-sum approach is primarily local vs. international).This approach is actually a sort of best case scenario from their perspective: to have a political solution that puts an end to civil war and permits the legitimate continued presence of Western institutions in Afghanistan by being invited to stay without the counter of an armed insurgency. This would solidify Afghanistan’s place within a US or NATO zone of influence. The greatest modern success I can think of of this type are the case of South Korea and Japan (see my earlier four part series of articles on the Korean peninsula for details; part 4 here).
The political process of a negotiated peace is complicated by opposing interests between the Afghan insurgency – nominally the Taliban – and the US / NATO. Despite the assassination of some Taliban leaders, the organisation has not officially shifted its position on basic requirements for a negotiated solution. They demand that foreign military bases are shut down, and that the country’s political institutions be distanced from direct Western influence. The Taliban refuses to negotiate with the current government of Afghanistan because they say that the government is little more than an extension of US occupation and mere stooges. The US would like the Taliban to recognise and legitimate the Afghan government. As far as I know, the Taliban have not had a formal face-to-face with Afghan government agents in an official setting.
I find it interesting, therefore, that an upcoming meeting and dialogue on the topic of a political settlement is slated to bring the two Afghan parties to the same negotiating table, one that may not have the US present.
The peace talks are to take place in Russia on 9 November. Invitees include the US, Afghanistan’s government, the Taliban, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. All save the US, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation whose mandate includes security in Asia. Iran and Afghanistan are observer countries of the SCO, and they’ve been discussed as possible future members.
Initially, the Afghan government had said it would send high level representatives from the foreign office. There’s been pull back from that after what appears to have been pressure against the decision, coming out of the US. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has instead confirmed the intent for a more distanced state body to attend the meeting: the High Peace Council. Both the government and the Taliban claim that this is not a ‘formal’ negotiating body despite the combination of high level attendees from numerous states.
It’s not yet certain who will end up showing to the planned meeting. Much is up in the air. What’s interesting is that a lateral, even if perhaps complimentary, negotiations process may be taking place beside that organised by the US. I’m not going to repeat what others have already written on the subject. You can learn more details from M. K. Bhadrakumar’s blog post on this. He’s a former Indian diplomat invested in India’s power position and perspective while also providing valuable insight on various international relations issues.