By Mohammad haghdoust

Taliban just seeking prisoner release, foreign troop exit: ex-U.S. security adviser

March 5, 2021 - 14:40

TEHRAN – A former adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command says the Taliban only negotiates only on the release of its prisoners by the Afghan government and the exit of foreign forces, including Americans, from the central Asian country.

"The position of the Taliban has been consistent from the beginning of the period in which the topic of negotiations surfaced. The Taliban has never been willing to negotiate except on two points. First, how can it secure the release of Taliban prisoners held by Afghan government forces? Second, the terms of a U.S. exit from Afghanistan," James P. Farwell tells the Tehran Times.

Farwell says the Taliban "has never shown serious interest in negotiating about any other topics."

The former adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command also notes that the Taliban's "position is actually more tenuous than it appears to believe."

He adds, "There are many, many stakeholders in Afghanistan and most of them are anti-Taliban. Without a realistic accord that takes broad stakeholder interests into account, the Taliban's strategy seems likely to backfire in its face, miring it in a long-term civil war."

He also tries to portray the Taliban as the enemy of Iran, while Iran has been holding talks with the Taliban representatives in Tehran and has been encouraging intra-Afghan dialogue to settle the decades-long conflict in the country.

"From Tehran's viewpoint, it should bear in mind that the Taliban is Sunni and no friend of Iran. A Taliban-run Afghanistan would likely damage, not help Iran," he claimed. 

"A Taliban-run Afghanistan would likely damage, not help Iran," he adds.

Contrary to claims by the former military advisor, Iran has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and they have assimilated into the Iranian society and there is no talk of who is Sunni or Shia.

In February 2020, the United States reached an agreement with the Taliban and signed a declaration with the government of Afghanistan to encourage an intra-Afghan peace process.

However, analysts firmly believe that the dialogue with the Taliban, which started during the Trump administration, was primarily aimed at finding a face-saving exit by the U.S. from Afghanistan. 

Analysts and politicians are asking why the United States, which considered the Taliban as a terrorist group and rejected talks with them, is now begging them to stop attacks on foreign forces.

Many observers believe that the agreement faces serious challenges that would undercut efforts to end the United States' longest war.

Though the Vietnam War will continue to haunt Americans and the U.S. lost more than 58,000 troops in the country, its war against the Taliban is the longest of all U.S. wars overseas.

Analysts say U.S. negotiations with the Taliban show Washington's hypocrisy. 

When asked if the Taliban are terrorists, why is the U.S. negotiating them, and if they are not, why did America wage war against them, he just said, "This is a civil war."

The American expert says that "there is no reason" that Iran and the U.S. "should have an adversarial relationship as to Yemen."

On what fuels the engine of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he says, "That is too broad a question to answer in a short interview. It draws upon a combination of Pashtun ad anti-foreigner sentiment, and its finances have been fueled by drug smuggling." 

The former military advisor also refused to elaborate on the Biden administration's decision to change policy toward Saudi Arabia, just saying, "The Biden policy towards Saudi Arabia is evolving. We'll see how it unfolds." 

 Also, on the release of an intelligence report by the U.S. that directly implicates Saudi de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman for killing Jamal Khashoggi and the repercussion of the report on the future relationship between Washington and Riyad, he said, "The report speaks for itself."

Some say the release of the intelligence report on the Khashoggi killing may put the fate of MBS in disarray.

"It's not clear in the opaque dynamics of Saudi politics who will succeed the current king," Farwell says.

Sustainable peace in Afghanistan, Yemen, and West Asia in general needs comprehensive cooperation between the U.S. and regional actors, including Iran, but on the ground, they have mostly adversary relations.  

The former adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command also sees room for a common understanding between Iran and the United States on the crisis in Yemen, saying, "There is no reason that the two should have an adversarial relationship as to Yemen. That serves no one, least of all the people of Yemen."

Before Biden came to power, the U.S. was providing logistical and intelligence reports for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. 

The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country's infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

In the early days of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Iran presented a four-point plan to then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposing cession of war and formation of an inclusive government, among other things.

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