There is a special kind of hypocrisy in wartime that is so deeply entrenched in human psychology, its best description comes from the Bible. The Book of Jeremiah 6:14. “They dress my people’s wounds,” the Prophet says, “as though they were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
Jeremiah pretty much summed up today’s American policy stance towards Afghanistan, lauding a “peace process” for which peace in Afghanistan is actually so far down the list of items on the agenda that it might never happen at all.
The U.S. is in the midst of prolonged negotiations with the Taliban which it likes to call peace talks, but really, they are not about peace, just the peaceful withdrawal of all American and other foreign forces from the country.
Only after the U.S. has agreed to bring home its troops from their almost-18 years on the Afghan battlefield, and once the American military command has presented a timeline for the withdrawal, will the Taliban even begin to discuss the future of their country. Only then might it engage with representatives of the more significant “other side” of this civil war, the United States’ ostensible allies, the government of Afghanistan.
What concept of “peace” will the Taliban put on offer will not be known until the exodus of foreign troops has been agreed to.
If the Taliban vision of a future Afghanistan did express a yearning for peace and an acceptance of “reconciliation” – another word that gets tossed around in the Afghan context with all the gravity of a Whiffle Ball – you would think they’d make it public as encouragement to cut a deal on getting foreign forces out.
The Taliban’s silence on Afghanistan’s future, and the awful record of their past governance – five years in power, 1996-2001, smothering every kind of religious, political or civil freedom – are equally ominous.
As he headed into the seventh round of direct talks with the Taliban, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who leads the American negotiation team, Tweeted, “I believe all sides want rapid progress.”
Perhaps, but towards what? Khalilzad says, “we seek a comprehensive agreement, not a withdrawal agreement.”
But peace and reconciliation, the Taliban insists, are not on the agenda, just troop withdrawal.
All sides, and just about every interested nation from Russia and China to Pakistan and Qatar have recently weighed in on how important peace in Afghanistan is to them. And they all have good, self-interested reasons. But what is the peace they have in mind?
For millions of Afghans, and especially for millions of young Afghan women, raised up in the freest 18 years of Afghan history, the details of the peace proclaimed for their future could not be more important.
Sophia Jones is Fuller Project’s Istanbul-based global editor and journalist focused on gender and global security. Through Sophia’s reporting on women’s role in peace and conflict, she explores how gender dynamics shape our world today, highlighting women’s often under-covered stories on and beyond the battlefield. Her reporting is well-read among experts and US policymakers. She leads a global team of reporters and visual storytellers at The Fuller Project.
She regularly writes and reports from Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere for magazines and outlets including The New York Times, Marie Claire Magazine, Politico, Foreign Policy, and others. She was a 2017 grantee with the Fund for Investigative Journalism, European Journalism Centre, and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and in 2019 of National Geographic.
She’s led panel discussions on women and journalism at the Newseum in DC, and at SXSW in Austin, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and Al Jazeera America. She is certified in battlefield medical aid and trained to report in conflict zones. Prior to joining The Fuller Project, Sophia served as HuffPost’s Middle East correspondent from 2013-2016.