28 Aug “Melian Strategy” Why did the Taliban fight and negotiate at the same time?
Although the Taliban claims that it is committed to the Doha negotiations, it appears to have participated not as an alternative to its military efforts but to make some extra gains from it.
- Taliban as a political actor: they wanted to demonstrate domestically and globally that Taliban is not just a militant group, but rather a political actor willing to negotiate through diplomatic channels. Besides, they used their offices as a platform to aggravate their propaganda, specifically through international media. In their speeches, the Taliban often claimed that they are committed to protecting human rights, women’s rights and minority rights. Such claims are well thought remarks to propagate themselves to the West as “relatively moderate.”
- Releasing their fighters: throughout the peace talks, Taliban was able to free thousands of their fighters in Afghani prisons. This has boosted their popularity among their armed insurgents.
- The Doha agreement: The most significant achievement of Taliban’s negotiation seems to be the Doha peace agreement. Signed in February 2020, in this deal, the US agreed to Taliban’s most fervent demand—that foreign troops will leave Afghanistan. Signing such a deal with the US government appeased Taliban and gave them a strong sense of victory.
- Breaking Western isolation: Despite that the US peace envoy to Afghanistan, Khalilzad, “has warned the Taliban that any government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan will not be recognized internationally,” Taliban attempts to breakout the Western isolation and gain international legitimacy through stepping up its diplomatic efforts. The Taliban leaders’ recent visits to China, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan demonstrate their thirst for global recognition.
In light of the recent developments, two key scenarios can occur in the coming weeks, as per the following:
- Taliban would take over the country by force: Taliban has inflicted heavy casualties on the Afghan troops. Realities on the ground suggest that the Afghan military will not withstand the Taliban assaults for longer. As Ali Ahmad Jalali, the former Interior Minister of Afghanistan, stated, “the rapid fall of one-third of Afghanistan provincial capitals within one week belies the much-hyped claims of the tenacity of the Afghan security forces as they fast crumbled in the face of advancing insurgent fighters.”[iii]According to him, poor leadership, logistical inconsistency and absence of operational and tactical coordination have plagued the Afghan security and defence forces. Also, the loss of the strategic cities, including Spin Boldak, Islam Qala, Kunduz and Zarang, is a devastating blow to the Afghani government. Besides controlling massive amounts of arms and equipment, “the Taliban now collects an estimated 2.5 million dollars in taxes each day.”[iv]
- Maintaining the “hybrid strategy”: The more likely scenario to occur is that the Taliban will continue its “hybrid strategy”—to fight and negotiate simultaneously. This is because the more military gains they make, the greater their leverage in the negotiation will be. The latest Doha talks, aiming to break the deadlock in negotiation, resulted in a statement calling for “a halt to violence and attacks immediately in and against provincial capitals and other cities, and urged both sides to take steps to reach a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire as quickly as possible.” However, the Taliban are less likely to stop its offensive, for it is paying off unprecedently.