Thirty-five years after Afghan soldiers collapsed before the Soviets, it is the United States who is engaging in peace talks with the Taliban to end the brutal war in Afghanistan. The insurgent group, which was set up by Saudi agents in the mid-1980s to fight against Soviet occupation, now controls much of the country.
President Donald Trump’s decision to engage in peace talks appears to be based on a new calculation that the U.S. will be able to achieve more by pursuing a power-sharing arrangement than a total military victory over the group. His decision suggests that the Taliban, as well as other adversaries of the U.S. in the region, are unlikely to win outright in the conventional conflict. Even if the Taliban eventually defeats the American-backed Afghan government, which was long the idea, it is likely to come at a much greater cost in civilian lives and in the loss of what, in these negotiations, could be touted as the Islamic Republic’s best hope for power in a post-Soviet Afghanistan.
The Taliban have, of course, waged a campaign of terror that has taken lives of civilians and foreign forces. While the insurgency seems to have peaked in recent years, the war has had a lasting impact, prompting the vast majority of Afghans to be opposed to the militants who claim to represent their interests.
The Taliban represents an ideology that clearly espouses the belief that its opponents — including the U.S. government — are foreign occupiers who must be overthrown. Yet one of the reasons that the deal will be complicated by how far that ideology is now being imported, including via proxy, is that the Taliban, from its start in the early 1990s, has been unbound by the strictures of the Islamic precepts of Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the Arab-Arabic worlds’ foremost extremist group, Al Qaeda. Today, the Taliban follows a brand of Islam that is not precisely in keeping with their radical predecessors.