Pakistan's diplomatic push to bring the Afghan peace process back on track has paved the way for the resumption of peace talks between the U.S and Afghan Taliban. The question, however, arises here: why were the peace talks canceled if they were to be restarted?
The meeting in Islamabad on Oct. 4 between the U.S. negotiators, led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an important milestone to resume the peace negotiations, which were abruptly called off by U.S. President Donald Trump, apparently after the insurgent group accepted responsibility for attack earlier last month that killed 12 people including one American soldier.
Was this attack the only reason behind the abrupt cancellation last month of an “almost done peace deal” between the U.S. and the Taliban? It is an undeniable fact that peace talks kept on track for the last one year despite the Taliban continued to launch attacks on the Afghan and U.S. soldiers. The other side of the story of calling off the Afghan peace process points to Donald Trump's covert plan with Blackwater.
Was Blackwater indeed a part of the U.S. in the post peace deal? Why was Trump even ready to sign a deal, which the critics called a surrender deal, with the Taliban last month? And now as Trump is set to actually withdraw the U.S. troops, he wants a ceasefire from Taliban and inclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks.
The Taliban's stand on the cancellation of peace talks reveals Trump's covert plan – going side by side with peace talks – to replace American troops with Blackwater contractors after signing the peace agreement with the insurgent group. It was the reason that the Taliban, during nine rounds of talks, were stuck to the point of a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-battered country. As Trump's underhand plan, prior to the signing of a peace deal, had been exposed to the Taliban, Trump had no option but to abruptly cancel the peace talks.
About six months ago (while the U.S.-Taliban peace talks were underway), an article published in Taliban's Urdu-language monthly, Shariah magazine titled, "Blackwater ki Afghanistan mein mutwaqqa aamad" ("The expected arrival of Blackwater in Afghanistan"), revealed the Blackwater plan to take on war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban had identified 2,000 specially trained personnel who were working undercover in Afghanistan. Taliban's sources alleged that the U.S. called off peace talks after the last month's Taliban attack in Kundus and the Camp Integrity in the Green Village near Kabul. At least 30 Blackwater mercenaries were killed, including Shafiqullah, the person in charge of the camp.
Camp Integrity, located near Kabul International Airport, has been home to Blackwater's Afghanistan operations since 2009. The Sept. 2 attack by the Taliban targeted the Green Village compound, which houses several international organizations and guesthouses.
The attack killed at least 16 people and wounded 100 more, as reported by The Associated Press. It was the attack, Taliban sources claimed, on the Blackwater base that forced Trump to abruptly cancel the peace talks, as the attack on the camp had exposed the real plan of the U.S.
After signing the peace deal with the Taliban, the Trump administration wanted to hand over the control of Afghanistan into the hands of the merchants of death – Blackwater. The U.S. would draw down its troops and replace them with 3,000 to 5,000 mercenaries.
Reports from Islamabad suggest that the U.S. wants a fresh start of peace talks with the Taliban putting forward their two demands – a complete cease-fire and the inclusion of the Afghan government in the peace process.
However, the Taliban are insisting to resume the process right from where it stopped. One thing is clear, the cease-fire from the Taliban would give a face-saving measure to Donald Trump to announce the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.
At war again?
Whatever claims have been made by the Taliban, true or false, one thing cannot be denied: Blackwater is deeply interested in taking on the Afghan war. For the last couple of years, Eric Prince, the founder of the Blackwater military firm, now known as Academia, launched a full-fledged campaign through print and electronic media with an aim to publicly convince President Trump on privatizing the Afghan war.
In an op-ed article published in the New York Times in 2017, Prince publicly sold his plan for privatizing the Afghan war. "My proposal is for a sustainable footprint of 2,000 American Special Operations and support personnel, as well as a contractor force of less than 6,000 [far less than the 26,000 in the country now]. This team would provide a support structure for the Afghans, allowing the U.S.’ conventional forces to return home," he wrote.
"If the president pursues this third path, I, too, would vigorously compete to implement a plan that saves American lives, costs less than 20% of current spending and saves American taxpayers more than $40 billion a year," he added.
In an interview with Recoil magazine this year, Prince said, "I had hundreds of instructors attached to Afghan units for a long time – we built the entire Afghan border police."
"Right now, the U.S. taxpayer is spending more than the entire U.K. defense budget, just in Afghanistan – $62 billion. That’s $5 billion to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and $57 billion for the U.S. just to be there; we can draw that number way down. We have 15,000 U.S. troops and 30,000 contractors in the country right now – you draw that number down to 2,000 active duty and maybe leave a small Special Operations Force (SOF) contingent there for a unilateral direct action capability, and you’d need around 6,000 contractors to do what I just described – mentors, airpower, government support. Everybody else can go."
Whether Prince had any role in sabotaging the Afghan peace process or not, what is worth knowing is Trump's decision. Has Prince ultimately succeeded in convincing Trump to test his third option in Afghanistan?
From another angle, Prince, a staunch Trump supporter had access to the White House. His sister, Betsy Devos is Trump's secretary of education. He was not convincing Trump – who might have been already convinced – through his media campaign. He was actually building public opinion through his articles and interviews in various media outlets in favor of privatizing the Afghan war.
In an interview with NBC News, Prince said he believes Trump advisers, who oppose his plan, are painting "as rosy a picture as they can" of the situation on the ground, including that "peace is around the corner" with recent U.S. efforts for peace talks with the Taliban. He said he believes Trump's advisers "over-emphasize the fluff and flare of these so-called peace talks."
The peace process is harmful to the firms running on war business. Peace deals terminate their contracts and dump the business prospects of these military companies. Then how could Blackwater contractors support or even tolerate a peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban that would end the longest war in U.S. history?
The business of war contractors thrives on war – the longer the conflict, larger the profits. Is the U.S. set to continue the longest war of its history – perhaps an endless war?
Conflict zones around the world are mouthwatering prospects for these so-called war profiteers. The best-established conflict zones like Afghanistan are the goldmines for mercenaries. Blackwater still holds a black spot on its face from when its contractors gunned down 14 unarmed civilians in Iraq in 2007.
The war is not a business. It brings human disaster – human casualties and human tragedies. It adds to human agonies and sufferings.
War-torn Afghanistan cannot afford the repercussions of the third option. Peace talks with the Taliban could lead the U.S. somewhere, but the prolonging war would lead nowhere.
* Freelance op-ed contributor based in Karachi, Pakistan, contributing analyst at the South Asia desk of Wikistrat