Taliban Peace Deal Could Help Kabul Defeat ISIS, but Kabul Must Make Concessions Too

The Afghan government could exploit a deal with the Taliban to end years of war as well as an insurgency at the hands of the Islamic State, an analyst has told Newsweek. However, he added, the Taliban's ultimate goal is to rid Afghanistan of foreign influence.

Anti-terrorism expert David Otto made the comment one day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered to recognize the Taliban militant group as an official political group that could take part in elections. In return, the Taliban would have to recognize the Afghan government and respect the rule of law. The move is seen as way to pave the way towards negotiations that could bring to an end to 16 years of war in the country.

The Taliban, a Sunni fundamentalist movement, took control of Afghanistan in 1996, imposing a strict version of Islam and persecuting anyone who would not abide by their laws. Although Taliban rule ended following a U.S. invasion in 2001, its insurgents still control some areas of the country. In recent months, the group stepped up its violent activities and claimed responsibility for attacks that killed and injured hundreds of people.

The group, which called for direct negotiations with the U.S. but not Kabul itself, admitted it had received international pressure to engage in a dialogue. One Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Taliban leaders were studying Ghani's proposal.

Some analysts have suggested that a possible deal could help both parties fight a common enemy, the Islamic State, which established a foothold in Afghanistan in 2015.

Last year, ISIS reportedly seized a cave complex known as Tora Bora, in the Nangarhar Province, after week-long fighting against the Taliban. The group has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks across the country.

"Kabul wants to exploit the principle of a common enemy and isolate ISIS, believing that the Taliban is concerned about growing ISIS presence in Kandahar and Tora Bora, which affects their control of smuggling routes," Otto explained.

"In the short term, ISIS is more of a danger to Kabul and to foreign powers than to the Taliban."

However, Otto added that the Taliban's ultimate goal is to get rid of foreign troops in the country. This could explain the group's decision to call for direct talks with the U.S., which has deployed thousands of troops in Afghanistan to help fight terrorism.

"The Taliban see themselves as a victim of U.S. imperialism. Even if a deal is struck, in the long term, the Taliban will not accept to share leadership with a unity government in Kabul that is supported and influenced by the U.S.," Otto explained.

Afghanistan
In this photograph taken on January 28, 2018 an Afghan National Army soldier fires an artillery shell during an ongoing anti-Taliban operation at Farah province. In february 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered to recognize the Taliban as an official political group that could take part in elections. In return, the Taliban would have to recognize the Afghan government and respect the rule of law. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

Both the U.S and the U.K., allied with Kabul, have refused to engage in direct talks with the Taliban and there are fears that possible negotiation would fail because of this stance.

However, Otto believes that including the Taliban in negotiations is the only way to bring stability in the country.

While the U.S. military has claimed that the Taliban has suffered major blows due to counter-terrorism operations, reports say the group still controls large parts of the country and is able to inflict several casualties on both civilians and the military.

"Fighting has not and will not eliminate the Taliban, the best alternative is to promote an effective dialogue that will reconsider the position of the Taliban for the interest of Afghanistan only," Otto said.

"It is a matter of when the Taliban is brought on the table and not if. This is an opportunity for the U.K and the U.S to stop spending millions, and for Kabul to reach an agreement from a local Afghan interest. Negotiations is one way of winning a long war that will not end otherwise."