Trump Called Off Negotiations with Taliban: What’s Next?

Ahmad Mohibi’s news analysis on Afghanistan’s TOLOnews in regards to the 9/11 anniversary that marks the 18 years of US war in Afghanistan. 

Since talks have been deemed ‘dead’, it is a better option for the US to take a more active stance on their South East Strategy of 2017 to counter state-sponsored terror and increase pressure on countries, such as Pakistan, who actively harbor the Taliban.

September 11, 2019, marked 18 years since the 9/11 attack — a tragic day in the history of the United States. It also marked the beginning of the US’s longest war in Afghanistan. It is a wake-up call for the western world to pay deeper attention to the rise of terrorism around the world and learn from past conflicts, as the US did in the 1990s in Afghanistan — leaving allies ally while terrorism retaliates and attack. 

The United States has not been entirely successful in its counter-insurgency operations over the past 18 years. However, progress has been made. An example would be the weakening of Al-Qaeda — a group that had the ability to reach New York and plan deadly attacks. Today, their ability to carry out such an attack has been massively hindered. On the negative side, ISIL has emerged and the Taliban has become stronger than at any point since their removal from power in 2001. Thus, we see some success but at the same time, multiple failures. 

Public opinion differs in both Washington and Kabul. In the United States, conservatives, such as Senator Lindsay Graham, are against troop withdrawal and are more in favor of hitting the enemy militarily, while liberals and the majority of Americans have grown tired of a long war in Afghanistan. Everyone is clear: they want an end to this war, but differ on how to bring about that end. So far $ 2.8 trillion USD has been spent, many lives lost and energy expended — it is hard to judge whether the US Global War on Terror was a success or a failure, so let numbers and statistics speak on the matter. 

The former head of the Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS), Masoom Stanekzai has said recently that one of the reasons that the US has failed in the war against terrorism is regional barriers. 

The Afghan case is sensitive, complex and hard, but it does have similarities to Vietnam. President Richard Nixon’s “Peace with Honor” failed due to US domestic politics, the Watergate scandal, the ongoing Cold War with the Soviets, and mass Chinese support for the communist Vietnamese. The same situation unfolded in Afghanistan.

The Afghan war is not only a religious and ethnic conflict but also a proxy war with many foreign actors. It may appear that the Taliban want to bring an Islamic Emirate and defeat western democracies, but it is more complex than that. Intra-Afghan tribal differences, US economic rivalries with China and political rivalries with Russia, as well as interference from Pakistan and Iran, have all influenced conflict in the region. 

There is no doubt that the United States proudly commands the world’s strongest economy and military. During the 9/11 memorial, President Trump said

We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago. I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people. They thought they would use this attack to show strength but actually what they actually showed us is un-reluctant weakness. The last four days we had hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before and that will continue.

He further emphasized that he will not use nuclear weapons to show American strength, but that the strength will come from the US soldiers. 

The Afghan war is complex and the US has not been as successful in counterinsurgency operations as they had hoped, but if we look at the achievements of the past 18 years, it is satisfying. After the Taliban was toppled, from 2004 – 2005 Afghanistan was relatively peaceful, the Taliban appeared to have been defeated, but they went to Pakistan where they regrouped and came stronger. Now they claim to control over 70% territory in Afghanistan. 

Since talks have been deemed ‘dead’, it is a better option for the US to take a more active stance on their South East Strategy of 2017 to counter state-sponsored terror and increase pressure on countries, such as Pakistan, who actively harbor the Taliban. It is vital that Kabul receives military aid in the form of aircraft and advanced intelligence to combat the Taliban. 

At the same time, the US needs to increase efforts to impede Taliban financing. This includes a comprehensive strategy that includes the use of the financial and banking system levers.

Going forward, the United States will need to focus on the implementation of this strategy while creating better counter-insurgency operation strategies in coordination with the Afghan forces and the Afghan government. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Political and economic pressure on Pakistan
  • Capacity building of the Afghan government
  • Fight corruption 
  • Intelligence information sharing
  • Provide vital equipment and training to the Afghan National Security Forces 

These are important steps the US can take going forward to see progress. This way, President Trump can see the achievements he promised in his presidential campaign and bring the soldiers home.

As we are speaking, the agenda for peace in Afghanistan is lost, said Ahmad Mohibi to TOLOnews. Whilst at an event recently, when commenting on the Afghan peace process, a former State Department official smiled and said, “What peace?… Isn’t it dead?”

President Trump is serious about national security. We have seen three National Security Advisors resign or been fired since he took over the current administration. Elections are near; both in Afghanistan and the United States. President Trump wants to show achievements, however, to avoid making Nixon’s mistake, he needs to tread carefully in Afghanistan. Following the recommendations above, he may achieve what Nixon couldn’t — make peace and bring the troops home.

The United States should not consider an immediate troop withdrawal to avoid making the same mistake as Vietnam. As Senator Lindsay Graham emphasized, “If America completely pulls out of Afghanistan, I fear the Security Forces will fracture along regional lines, creating growth opportunities for Al Qaeda and ISIS.”

In conclusion, the US should avoid a troop withdrawal and direct more pressure on regional actors, mainly Pakistan, to stop harboring and financing terrorism in Afghanistan. The US needs to support a transparent election in Afghanistan and ensure the government is chosen by the people. Ideally, the US cancellation of peace talks will be a ‘slap in the face’ for the Taliban so that they may learn from their mistakes, and be open to peaceful negotiations in the future.

The military option has not been as successful as the US hoped over the past 18 years and will only work if the Taliban’s financing is cut on a macro level, which includes pressuring state sponsors. This way, there is a possibility of peace in Afghanistan. We must stress, however, it will not happen overnight. It will require generations of Afghans to work hard and build their nation back up again.

Ahmad Mohibi on TOLOnews

Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi


My Reflections on 9/11 Memorial

I distinctively remember the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as I was barely weeks into a yearlong youth exchange program in France. As a young teenager, it was my first solo venture abroad and I was full of excitement.

On that day, my host mother left a Post-It note on the television advising of a documentary on wild horses to watch after school. I would not have turned on the television otherwise! Once it concluded, I switched stations and could not believe my eyes as I tuned into news coverage. The images were stunning, haunting and foreboding all at once. A sense of utter horror while touching on so many aspects of the human condition simultaneously.

We closely watched the news broadcasts late into the evening. As a Canadian, I felt profound sadness for my neighbors to the south. I was a youth obviously lacking in-depth knowledge of nefarious non-state state actors, but the name Al-Qaeda was familiar due to a unit on terrorism in my high school law class months prior. Though the extent of the dramatic shift in history to come was unimaginable to a high school student, I knew significant ramifications would follow that momentous day.

A certain social anxiety rose around those from Muslim countries. This was most certainty due to the conflation between Islam and terrorism linked to the motivation of the organizers and perpetrators of those awful attacks. It was then I understood that misperception of groups of people often came from fear and misunderstanding. Accordingly, the following question was, ‘Well, what set of beliefs could compel someone to do such a thing?’

It would be improper of me to say that 9/11 has impacted my life as I only experienced the discussed emotions in the detached capacity of an external viewer. Each year I take the time to watch the televised remembrance ceremonies in solemnity of all those lives lost and to consider the plight of all the poorly first responders hampered by illness.

However, the attacks of September 11 solidified many invaluable truths, at least in my perception. Just like the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are moments in history that change our understandings of each other and interactions on a global scale. There is a reason why we discuss the ‘post-9/11’ period because it differs from our perception of security prior.

The attacks firmly demonstrated the reach of transnational terrorism and the vast consequences of extremist ideologies when significant resources are in place. The longevity of terrorist organizations —such as al-Qaeda after the attacks— reveals that combatting terror, despite vital resources, sometimes seems like grasping in the dark since halting the spread of an ideology is impossible.

Therefore, a multifaceted approach from sound intelligence analysis, effective cooperation in areas of security and law enforcement, community engagement and knowledgeable policy decisions hopefully reduces the odds of another event and the need to say, ‘Never Forget’ once more.

Réjeanne Lacroix, Editor-in-chief at Rise to Peace is a Canadian independent researcher focusing on international security and the post-Soviet space. She earned her BA in Political Science at Laurentian University and an MA in International Security Studies at the University of Leicester. Her analysis on a wide range of topics was previously featured at the NATO Association of Canada.

Assassination of top commanders paves the way for Taliban to advance

Famous Afghan commander killed in Northern Afghanistan

Hours into September 1st, a mine detonated and killed General Nazir Mohammad Niazi as he made his way to watch a soccer match in Faizabad; the capital of Badakhshan province in Afghanistan. General Niazi was a well-known Jamiati commander and the former mayor of Badakhshan.

The incident occurred at the same time of other violent events and shifts in the Afghan political landscape. Kunduz province was attacked for the third time in the past 18 years yesterday. Said Husain Sarwari, Kundoz Police spoke-person — a father of four — was killed. Taliban forces were defeated after 24 hours of counter operations, but they retaliated with an attack on Baghlan soon after. They remain in an active conflict with Afghan security forces.

Further, General Niazi’s death is controversial because he met his end only hours after Hizbi Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, landed in Faizabad as part of his presidential campaign. Hizbi Islami is a major political party in Afghanistan and remained in fervent dispute with Mohammad’s Jamiati party, the largest in Afghanistan, since the 1990s. 

It is prudent to mention that Hekmaytar recently returned from Pakistan and received name clearance from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s blacklist. The political implications of General Niazi’s death will consequently raise concerns. 

All of this is concurrent with the completed talks between the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. These talks seek to achieve a pathway to intra-Afghan dialogue and solutions for peace.

Mass Taliban attacks such as these reveal important points:

1. Certain Taliban demands are not being met and they are increasing their use of military tactics to demonstrate their power.

  1. The Taliban lack unified leadership and simply does not have control over all its factions

The assassination of important Afghan figures is not a new phenomenon. Contemporary applications of targeted suicide bombings as a tactic became commonplace when two Arab journalists killed the leader of the Afghan Mujahidin, Ahmad Shah Masoud — a national hero two days before 9/11 incident. Most of Masoud’s influential people and commanders were subsequently assassinated as well in the past 18 years. 

A clear picture regarding the perpetrators behind these attacks begins to take shape. Osama bin Laden ‘hated’ Massoud because he was against al-qaeda and terrorism and his presence made it hard for Osama to operate successfully in Afghanistan with Taliban. According to evidence and criminal investigation biometrics, Pakistani intelligence and their proxies — the Taliban — can be linked to such instability.

Pakistan is typically pinpointed as the key strategic planner behind these deadly attacks in Afghanistan due to historic facts and the evidence found at the scene of suicide bombings and on arrested soldiers. 

At a closer look, all of the targeted leaders and commanders expressed critical sentiments against Pakistan as well as the role of Pakistani intelligence’s role in facilitating violent acts, especially in Afghanistan.

As an example, the former president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, who criticized Pakistan for interfering in Afghan politics and supporting rebel factions, was publicly executed by hanging by the Taliban. Further, in 2018, General Abdul Raziq was assassinated in Kandahar province for his strong stance on Pakistan and terrorism. After his death, some units of the Pakistani military cheered and celebrated his death. 

The loss of experienced commanders is detrimental to Afghanistan’s future. Knowledgeable commanders are in dire need as the country seeks to gain the upper hand of a critical situation in which extremist groups gain vast swaths of territory.

The ongoing Afghan war is typical of guerilla warfare in that it is difficult to understand who remains engaged in the fighting and who is exactly responsible for key assassinations. Many suspects emerge: it could be the Taliban who killed General Mohammad or it could have been Hizbi Islami or ISIL. Only intelligence collection and further investigation will reveal the truth.


What in the World Is Going On in Afghanistan?

The Afghan Peace Talks on the Eve of Their Presidential Election

Mullah Khairullah Khaikhwah, a senior member of the Taliban, stated that a peace deal between the US and the Taliban negotiators would likely end in an awaited peace deal by the end of this week. After eight peace talks in Moscow, Qatar, Pakistan, Indonesia and Afghanistan, a hope for a permanent ceasefire appears elusive. Afghan political parties, including Jamiat Islami, are optimistic and supportive of a peace agreement. The Afghan government is skeptical and does not accept any agreement but the resolution to hold fair and free elections.

According to a senior Afghan official, intra-Afghan dialogues are agreeable on three main issues: 

  1. Ceasefire
  2. Dismissal of election
  3. Interim government, but the Taliban calling it a “New Government”

Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh, calls the political leaders behind this agreement, “useful idiots/self-named leaders…” on his Twitter and states that “…elections will take place. Allow no poisonous propaganda to disturb your patriotism. The link between elections and peace process is very direct & crucial. No one without a mandate from the people can negotiate a settlement.”

The Afghan government want an election. The Taliban does not want the Afghan government to hold elections because they believe the incumbent authorities are illegitimate, and they do not want the regime to maintain power. Other Afghan political leaders such as Ata Mohammad Noor, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Muhamad Mohaqeq and other influential leaders who fought both the Soviets and the Taliban, are willing to accept an interim government and to make a deal with the Taliban. This all comes down to election vs. interim government and Afghan government vs. Taliban.

Afghanistan Election History

The Bonn Agreement of 2001 created a timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections to commence in 2004.  The United States backed the successful presidential campaign of Hamid Karzai, but parliamentary elections were not successfully held until September 2005. Elections at this level were hampered by accusations of electoral discrepancies and voter fraud. It is speculated that these two factors tarnished the elections as illegitimate and accordingly led to a low voter turnout.

In August 2009, presidential and local elections were held. Accusations of fraud, such as ballot stuffing, emerged yet again. A low turnout and acts of intimidation presented challenges. Months later, in October, the US pressured Afghan President Karzai to authorize a runoff vote to rectify complaints of the original election. Karzai ran against Abdullah Abdullah; the latter dropped out of the race due to a lack of transparency. Thus, Karzai remained president for the next five years, as the country vowed to overcome any future fraud and corruption through the implementation of a better electoral system.

Parliamentary elections in 2010 did not differ much. Twenty-one candidates were disqualified by the Independent Election Commission because of fraud and illegal activities. Further, the Taliban used terrorist attacks and threats to incite voter suppression. These particular acts of fear mongering dissuaded women and progressive candidates from becoming elected.

The 2014 elections marked Karzai’s term limits and a new president would be elected to office. Ashraf Ghani won against Abdullah Abdullah, but charges of fraud remained.

2019 Election Issues

The Electoral Commission postponed the 2019 elections twice in efforts to curb fraud. As a consequence, the presidential elections are slated to take place on September 28, 2019.

Voter suppression and intimidation remain typical obstacles of elections in Afghanistan. It is a nationwide problem as the Taliban and other terrorist groups target civilians in major cities like Kabul and in remote countryside villages.

The US, Afghan representatives, and the Taliban concluded the Doha peace talks, but it seems that no agreement has been reached, especially regarding election processes. It is the Taliban that seems to be the unwilling actor as they continually refuse to speak with the Ghani regime; authorities they deem illegitimate. In the post-peace talk period, the Taliban continue to engage in acts that strike fear in ordinary Afghan civilians.

The US, UN, and the Afghan government state their commitment to ensuring that the Independent Election Commission can thwart voter suppression and election fraud. Nevertheless, the commission is faced with managing the troubling union of terrorism and corruption.

Terrorism and corruption go hand in hand and play off each other. They create instability in government systems, which in turn create anxiety within the people, who are left to consider their electoral system as illegitimate. Elections are not perceived as free and fair.

Here is a breakdown of what peace talks means to each side and what needs to be done. 

 The United States

Interests of all peace brokers matter. The Trump administration wants to end the Afghan War and fulfill perennial campaign promises ahead of the 2020 elections. President Trump would tactically boast of such a major achievement. Since 2001, the US has used hard power methods to create stability and to end terrorism. Trump stood firm in the early years of his presidency as he used additional options for delivering strong military strikes in Afghanistan. He increased the number of troops on the ground from 10,000 to 14,000, dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on ISIL headquarters and suspended military aid to Pakistan.

The US has since amended its stance in favor of diplomatic measures and seeks to give the peace process a chance. Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the Special Envoy for Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation to take the lead on all US efforts. Recently, there has been an excellent amount of progress, mainly the Taliban’s willingness to discuss their grievances and explain how they want their country to be operated.

Opposition parties

A negotiated settlement is in the best interest of opposition political parties for numerous reasons. First, President Ashraf Ghani has ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist, from centralizing power and isolating powerful political leaders like Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor.

Abdul Rashid Dostum a.k.a General Dosutm — the leader of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan or simply known as Junbush and the current vice president — was exiled under the direction of President Ghani. Dostum’s role in the Afghan government is viewed as symbolic since he was used twice by both Ghani and Karzai to tactically augment their coalition of supporters. He represents Uzbeks; one of the four major ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Dostum’s relationship with the Afghan political elite has been complicated as both administrations exiled him to Turkey for numerous reasons. These include rape, torture of a local commander and being powerful enough to initiate a revolt.

Ghani lost an influential leader, Ata Mohammad Noor; the Chief Executive of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan and a governor with thirteen years experience. According to our research, an announcement from the Afghan government office, and an exclusive interview with TOLOnews, it was revealed that Noor resigned over a condition-based agreement a year prior to the actual acceptance date of his resignation. His resignation was accepted by Ghani without the acceptance or approval of any of the stated conditions. As president, Ghani had the constitutional right to replace him or anyone else, but this aggressive action was viewed as an “ethno-nationalist” move and faced with nationwide criticism, including the famous Afghan commander, General Raziq, who later was assassinated by the Taliban.

Bad decisions such as these further damaged the integrity of the government and created mistrust between political actors. In Afghanistan, political leaders from different ethnicities are influential, powerful and necessary for cooperation to combat terrorism and build a democratic Afghanistan. Ghani’s decision to simply dismiss two influential leaders of two major political parties jeopardized his regime and ill-effects of these actions are felt to this day.

The Afghan government

The Ghani administration wants to continue its rule and does not want to relinquish power. They understand well that if the US and the Taliban accept an interim government with the support and agreement of political leaders, their regime will end. Further, they do not have the political capital to win an interim government leadership position, nor will the Taliban and other Afghan leaders will allow them to gain power in such a framework.

This is the chief reason why the Afghan government is skeptical of the peace process and an interim government. The election provides an avenue for Ghani to retain power and he wants a legacy like his predecessor Hamid Karzai; to rule for a long time to implement his policies as he continuously promises the people.

Both Ashraf Ghani and his running mate, Amrullah Saleh are in favor of elections mainly for the above reasoning. In a recent TOLOnews exclusive interview with running mate Amrullah Saleh, Saleh’s definition of peace requires the Taliban compete in an election so that they can express their policies, if they are capable of such politicking. Saleh criticizes the Taliban for not having basic literature and accuses them of being a “puppet” to Pakistan.


The Taliban wants to make peace with the US because they are the root of the current Afghan government. Without US intervention, contemporary interpretation of the Afghan government or democracy would be alien. The Taliban occupied approximately 90 percent of Afghanistan by 2000 and could have stayed in power had they not been toppled.

Over the past 18 years, the Taliban continuously fought and outlasted sophisticated military operations under the guidance of two US presidents (George W. Bush and Barack Obama), NATO and ISAF forces. These struggles compelled the US negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban view Afghanistan’s president as a “puppet of the West” in the same vein that the Afghan government considers the Taliban as a “puppet” of Pakistan. They have stated on multiple occasions that they would negotiate with past enemies — Mujahidin rather than the current “non-Islamic” government of Afghanistan. This stance remained unchanged since the former president Hamid Karzai called the Taliban in 2006 to join a peace process or the first time.

The Taliban gained a worldwide reputation after the US government appointed Khalilzad as the special envoy. They perceived this as a recognition of their status as a political party rather than an insurgent group. The US’ soft approach provided the Taliban with additional power to reject the Afghan government as illegitimate, as they always claimed over the past 18 years. They saw this as an opportunity to deal with the master and real ruler behind the scenes — the United States.

Transnational Terrorism

The Taliban are a major insurgency group that have operated in Afghanistan since 1996. Since that time, they have harbored Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as well as numerous foreign fighters from diverse parts of the world. Insurgents primarily from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and the Russian republic of Chechnya traveled to Afghanistan for Taliban instruction and education.

If a negotiated settlement is reached, the likelihood that factions of the Taliban, along with over two dozen other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, will continue to be obstacles to the peace process. One particular organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have a foothold in the Khorasan province of Afghanistan, Pakistan and infiltrating Central Asia.


History reveals that elections in Afghanistan struggle with illegitimacy and corruption. The 2019 edition appears to be stymied by similar complaints despite efforts of the US and Afghan governments to ensure free and fair elections.

The Taliban and opposition parties consider this round of presidential elections as fraudulent due to corruption inherent in the current Afghan government. Since the Taliban have additional motives and do not want elections to be held, integrity of the electoral process is used as a factor in the peace talks.

A peace deal will come with a big cost — dismissal of elections and creation of an interim government, or the “New Government,” as labelled by the Taliban.

If all parties truly want peace, they must appreciate the United States efforts in brokering this deal. To this date, the current Afghan government has been skeptical of the peace talks mainly to remain in power and win another mandate to govern through elections. Gaining power is the most important aspect of some political actors and rejection of a peace offer from the Taliban insurgency is demonstrative of their stance on peace and democracy.

Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

Nick Webb, a Research Analyst at Rise to Peace.