WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has ruled out any talks with the Taliban and instead has pledged to “finish what nobody else has been able to finish” in Afghanistan before him.
President Trump’s remarks, at a lunch with members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) in Washington on Monday, followed an earlier statement from him, urging the international community to work with the United States to defeat the Taliban.
In Kabul, the Afghan government interpreted this as the reiteration of Mr Trump’s resolve to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield and offered to work with the United States to achieve this target.
The Taliban, however, reacted to President Trump’s remarks by declaring that they never wanted to talk to the United States anyway, although one senior Taliban official said he believed the US continue talking to the militant movement.
President Trump, however, insisted that there would be no talks with the Taliban until they were defeated in the battlefield first.
“We’ll also discuss what more we can do to defeat the Taliban. I don’t see any talking taking place. I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now. It’s a whole different fight over there,” said Mr Trump while stating what he planned to discuss with UNSC members after the lunch.
“They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right. Bombing in the middle of children, in the middle of families — bombing, killing all over Afghanistan,” said the US leader while explaining why he did not want to talk to the Taliban.
“So, we don’t want to talk with the Taliban. There may be a time, but it’s going to be a long time. We’re all out, and that’s taking place right now, and it’s a whole new front. And it’s a whole new set of principles that we’re being governed by,” he added.
President Trump said that when he sees what the Taliban were doing and the atrocities that they’re committing, it forces him not to talk to this groups.
“They are … killing their own people, and those people are women and children — many, many women and children that are totally innocent — it is horrible,” he said. “So, there’s no talking to the Taliban. We don’t want to talk to the Taliban.”
Instead of talks, Mr Trump said, he would focus on “finishing” the Taliban, a statement interpreted in both Washington and Kabul as the reiteration of his earlier resolve to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield.
“We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” he said.
Although not stated so forcefully, his plan to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield was also underlined in the Afghan strategy that he announced in August and was re-emphasised in later statements as well.
The plan, as other US officials explain, is based on a conclusion by American field commanders: the Taliban will not take the peace process seriously as long as they are able to carry out attacks on US and Afghan forces. So, to force them to talk, it’s necessary to beat them in the battlefield first.
In Kabul, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told reporters with the recent terrorist attacks in Kabul, the Taliban had “crossed a red line and lost the chance for peace.”
Both the Taliban and the militant Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in Kabul this week that killed almost 200 people.
“We have to look for peace on the battlefield. They have to be marginalised first,” said the Afghan spokesman, Shah Hussain Murtazawi.
But a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said they never wanted to hold peace talks with the United States anyway. Another Taliban official, however, said the US had approached Taliban leaders before and he believed it would continue to do so. Mr Trump’s announcement that he would no longer hold talks with the Taliban was “only for public consumption,” he added.
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2018