WASHINGTON: As Americans prepare for the Thanksgiving, US President Donald Trump told his nation on Monday that he is once again working on a peace agreement to bring his troops back from Afghanistan.
“You know we’re pulling way down in Afghanistan. We’re working on an agreement now with the Taliban. Let’s see what happens,” Mr Trump said in a telephone call to Fox News this weekend.
Traditionally, American presidents use the long Thanksgiving weekend, which begins on Thursday, to share good news with their nation. But for President Trump, it’s more than a holiday greeting. He committed himself to recalling American troops from across the global during his 2016 election campaign and has withdrawn thousands from Iraq, Syria, and even Afghanistan.
But this time he wants to bring back all 13,000 American troops that are still in Afghanistan. In September, the US leader came close to achieving this target when he invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and senior Taliban leaders to the Camp David presidential near Washington to sign a peace agreement.
But the agreement, finalised after almost two years of continuous US-Taliban talks in Doha, Qatar, collapsed when the rebels attacked Afghan and American troops near Kabul and killed dozens, including a US soldier.
President Trump not only cancelled the Camp David meeting, he also declared the US-Taliban talks were “dead.” But hopes for resuming the talks revived last week, when the Afghan government and the rebels swapped prisoner, three senior Taliban leaders for two Western professors.
Two days after this exchange, President Trump called three regional leaders who, he said, had played a major role in arranging the prisoner exchange – President Ghani, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
All three are also involved in the Afghan peace process and a White House statement released after his calls to them indicates that Mr Trump’s expects them to continuing supporting the US-Taliban talks.
President Trump expressed appreciation for President Ghani’s support in freeing professors Kevin King and Timothy Weeks and “affirmed the important role of the Afghan government in its country’s peace process,” the White House said.
“Both sides agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward and for any intra-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful,” the statement added.
“President Trump and President Ghani reaffirmed their mutual objective of defeating terrorist threats against the United States and Afghanistan.”
In his call to Prime Minister Khan, President Trump not only acknowledged Pakistan’s support for the recovery of American hostages but also hoped that “this positive development will contribute to furthering the peace process in Afghanistan.”
The White House note about his call to Amir of Qatar also mentioned Doha’s role in securing the release of two hostages and said that the two discussed other “critical bilateral and regional issues.”
The Trump administration hopes that Qatar will continue to host future talks between the United States and Taliban as well, as it did during the last nine rounds.
“Let’s hope this leads to more good things on the peace front like a cease-fire that will help end this long war,” President Trump said in a tweet he released on Tuesday.
But when Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was asked if the prisoner swap could lead to the resumption of peace talks, he told Voice of America radio: “It is too early to say anything about it.”
However, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US teams in all previous talks with the Taliban, was more hopeful. The prisoner exchange, he said, could lead to “a reduction in violence and rapid progress” toward a political settlement. “The Afghan people yearn for peace and security, and we stand with them,” Ambassador Khalilzad tweeted.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2019