As It Happens

'Beyond naivety' to trust Taliban's word in peace talks, says former ambassador

Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker says the framework peace deal struck between Washington and the Taliban is a surrender — and an abandonment of America's values and its allies.

Ryan Crocker says the U.S. has 'caved' in peace negotiations with the Taliban

Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker says Washington caved to pressure from the Taliban in peace negotiations. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Story transcript

The United States wants out of Afghanistan. But to Ryan Crocker, the current exit plan looks more like a surrender to the Taliban.

The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan takes issue with the framework peace deal outlined this week by American negotiators. That deal highlights one main condition — that the Taliban prevent terrorists from using the country as a safe haven. Crocker isn't the only one who sees a problem with that plan.

Earlier this week, As It Happens spoke with Afghan MP Fawzia Kofi who said the broadstrokes pact hammered out between Washington and the Taliban — without the involvement of the Afghan government — has women, in particular, worried. They fear their hard-won rights will be traded away in the bargain.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Crocker about his objections. Here is part of their conversation.

Why do you say this framework agreement between the Taliban and the United States is a surrender?

For years now, the Taliban have been saying that they are happy to negotiate with us. They will not do so with the Afghan government present because they consider it a puppet government installed by the American occupiers. We have consistently rejected that. This time we caved.

That is why this is such a pivotal moment. We are delegitimizing the Afghan government that we are in Afghanistan to support. We are weakening them and strengthening the Taliban.

Crocker says any peace talks between the United States and the Taliban must include the Afghan people and President Ashraf Ghani's government at the table. (Fabrice Coffrini/Associated Press)

But there are those who say that [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani and his government is fragmented. They have competing interests of warlords and regional interests and that they don't negotiate from position of strength. So is it possible to find any cooperation with the Taliban, if the Ghani government is involved with it?

The only reason to take that approach — that the government is too divided to come to the table, which I don't think is true — is if we are, in fact, surrendering. If the only thing we are talking about is that we leave, then it doesn't matter who's in the room. And that's why I think this is so dangerous.

Yeah, the government of Afghanistan has factions and they feud. You can say exactly the same thing about the United States government. That doesn't mean that we are no longer legitimate. 

I'll play devil's advocate here. Why not surrender? The Taliban, at this point, controls more than half the country and some say that's a modest assessment. The Afghan security forces are fighting the Taliban, losing tens of thousands of personnel just in recent years. And that doesn't include all the civilian deaths and the destruction and the huge number of Afghans who continue to leave the country — the brain drain from that country. I mean, at some point, recognizing the Taliban's strength, isn't surrender, maybe, in the cards here?

First, in terms of who controls what. It depends very much on how you sided that up. All major towns and cities in Afghanistan are in the control of the government. Most of the major roadways are in control of the government.

Second, in terms of why stay, 9/11 came to us out of Afghanistan. It came to us through an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, who gave safe haven to al-Qaeda. Well, it's the same Taliban. If anything, after 18 years, it is harder, meaner and more determined.

They gave up the country, rather than give up al-Qaeda. Will they bring al-Qaeda back? No matter what they say, when we're not around to do anything about it, I would say they would do exactly that again and you set the stage for a new 9/11.

The third point I'd make, this is also about American values, not just our interests. I opened our embassy there after the fall of the Taliban. The first thing we did was start to open girls' schools. We encouraged girls and women to step forward — they did. They're in business. They're in parliament. They're in the military. They're in government. Girls are in school.

What do we think is going to happen to them? They will get it in the neck.

This is very important what you are saying because what [U.S. representative] Zalmay Khalilzad has been able to extract from the Taliban in the way of a promise is that they say they will not give safe haven to al-Qaeda or ISIS or any of the foreign terrorist groups that they had in the past. There ambitions are regional. And that's what he is taking back to Washington as evidence as to why it's possible for the United States to leave. But you would urge Washington not to belive that?

There is no reason to believe that. They can say anything. They will say anything and then they revert to the behaviour that I know they will revert to. What are we going to do about it? We're gone. We don't care anymore.

So to put weight on these kinds of assurances is just ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous.

The Associated Press had a statement from the Taliban yesterday. The Taliban said that they don't want a monopoly of power. They want war to end. They don't want to return to what they had before. Everyone is tired of war in Afghanistan and they are too. Is it possible that they have changed their stripes? Is it possible that they want to have peace?

Anything is possible in this world. If that is a possibility, then we want to test it. And the way we test it? Bring in the Afghan government.

If the Afghan government stays out, it is pretty clear, whatever the Taliban says, what they intend, they intend to run the country. Not to have some sharing of leadership or democratic process. Otherwise, why keep the Afghan government out of it?

It represents all kinds of factions there. To believe what the Taliban says is beyond naivety. It is dangerous.

Written by Kate Swoger and John McGill. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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