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Former Pakistan Envoy Sees Hope For Peace After The U.S.-Taliban Deal

U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad (left) and senior Taliban officials spoke by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump on March 4.
U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad (left) and senior Taliban officials spoke by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump on March 4.

The recent peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban aims to end Washington’s longest war. Author Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, believes this deal provides a real opportunity for peace in the region. Now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, Haqqani argues that the Afghan government and the Taliban — along with its main backer, Pakistan — have to realize that the war cannot have a single winner and it is time to end the conflict through constructive dialogue.

Radio Mashaal: Does this deal between the United States and the Taliban mean a beginning of the end of the war in Afghanistan?

Hussain Haqqani: I have consistently said that this deal is aimed at facilitating an American withdrawal. It is not a peace deal. The war in Afghanistan started well before the Americans arrived, and I don't think that making it all about the presence of American troops will solve any of Afghanistan’s problems.

The fact remains that the Taliban represent a totalitarian ideology. They want to dominate Afghanistan. They found the Americans a bigger and more formidable enemy, so they want that bigger enemy to leave so they can deal with what they consider the smaller enemy, which is the people of Afghanistan and the various factions therein.

FILE: Husain Haqqani
FILE: Husain Haqqani

Radio Mashaal: Do you think this U.S.-Taliban deal can remain intact, or will it fall apart?

Haqqani: The American part of the deal will stay intact because the Americans really want to get out of Afghanistan. That is what, fortunately, President [Donald] Trump has committed to his people and so he will do exactly that: try and reduce the American presence there.

That said, the problem that caused America to go to Afghanistan [in the first place] was the intransigent Taliban, who are limited by their vision and ideology, which is still the same. Soon we will witness the Taliban atrocities that might change America’s view.

Radio Mashaal: Trump has said that they should leave regional countries do the job of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. Some Afghans believe this is leaving Afghanistan to its neighbors. Do you have the same concern?

Haqqani: I think from Trump’s perspective it may be reasonable because the way he views everything he looks at it in dollars and cents and he sees America spending a lot of money in a country that he knows nothing about and certainly does not care much about.

However, the reason that the Americans went to Afghanistan is that there were all kinds of terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan is not the only country that had terror safe havens. Iran and Pakistan also have terrorists. So, withdrawing [troops] from Afghanistan will not end the world’s terror problem, and asking neighbors who themselves have huge terrorist safe havens to take care of Afghanistan will certainly not bring peace to the region.

Radio Mashaal: You mentioned Pakistan, which says it is working for peace in the region. They are indirectly taking credit for facilitating U.S.-Taliban talks. How do you see Pakistan’s role in the future?

Haqqani: It is interesting that for years Pakistan has said it is not responsible in any way for what the Taliban do in Afghanistan and yet when the Taliban finally come to negotiate with the Americans it is Pakistan taking credit. This basically proves that the Taliban would not have become the big problem they have become if they did not enjoy a safe haven in Pakistan.

In the end, Pakistan has to normalize relations with its neighbors — India, Iran, and Afghanistan. Pakistan still looks at its region from the perspective of the British colonial masters. I don't think it has the means to be able to pursue that vision except through militancy and subconventional warfare, which the rest of the world consider terrorism. Pakistan will eventually have to change its outlook, and triumphalism is certainly not going to endear it to the Afghan people.

Radio Mashaal: What is your proposal for ending the war in this region? What do you suggest?

Haqqani: The people of Afghanistan, as well as the neighbors of Afghanistan, have to come to terms with the fact that the Taliban are not a force for good or a positive force. Afghans can talk to their co-nationals Taliban and figure out how to make them part of Afghanistan’s political system. But if the Taliban still want to be the lords and masters of all of Afghanistan then there is no choice for the people of Afghanistan but to resist.