US-Taliban Deal: Dead on Arrival?
Afghanistan has been at war for the past forty years, longer than most of the world's population has been alive. The battle between the U.S. and Taliban insurgents began when American President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. It only took a few months to topple the extremist Taliban regime and send Osama Bin Laden along with other top leaders of Al Qaeda to hide in Pakistan. However, this didn't stop the war, making it the longest fought conflict by America.
The direct cost to American taxpayers is reaching $ 1trn but the cost of war for Afghans is much higher. Roughly, 3,500 civilians die every year and the shattered country is already the poorest in Asia.
On 29 February 2020, the U.S. and Taliban signed an agreement to bring peace to Afghanistan and put an end to eighteen years of ruthless bloodshed.
This historic deal was signed in Doha, Qatar and will enable the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops in the next fourteen months. The pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Mullah Baradar, political head of the Taliban. Separately, a three-page joint declaration was signed between the Afghan government and the U.S. in Kabul.
Under this agreement, the U.S. will draw down its troops to 8,600 from 13,000 in 135 days and NATO troops will be brought down simultaneously and proportionally. The complete pullout will depend upon the commitment of the Taliban to prevent terrorism. It will not allow terrorist groups or individuals including the Al Qaeda to use Afghanistan's soil to threaten the security of the U.S. and its allies. It also mentioned the removal of UN sanctions by 29 March and U.S. sanctions by 27 August. It is important to know that the deal does not tie U.S. withdrawal to any specific outcome from the intra-Afghan talks.
The pact also envisions the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government ahead of the intra-Afghan talks in Oslo, Norway. This can be identified as a possible trouble spot because the Afghanistan government will use this as leverage to secure their interests - lasting ceasefire.
Mr Ghani made it clear that this is a decision for his government to take and that it might just be a part of the negotiation, not a precondition.
Another element of the already fragile deal which can become a bone of contention is the issue on ceasefire. The agreement indicates that an actual ceasefire will only come with the completion of the All-Afghan political agreement.
The Road Ahead
The arrangement is far from perfect, in many ways. The U.S. could only negotiate to have a significant reduction in violence and not a complete end to hostilities. It is possible that the Taliban is either unwilling or unable to control their militant fighters. Both the possibilities are equally dangerous. The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks with the Taliban.
Moreover, the planned withdrawal is linked to the Taliban's counterterrorism performance, not the progress in the intra-Afghan talks. The biggest problem is that the group which repressed Afghans with a barbaric and brutal form of Islamic government would become a major stakeholder once again.
Many fear that the Taliban are fabricating their interest in peace and harmony and will eventually seize control of the government. Others believe that the U.S. itself is sceptical of the Taliban but is finding a way out of the never-ending ending war. From this interpretation, the whole deal seems like a tool used by the U.S. to justify its surrender or a political gain for the upcoming presidential elections.
The failure of the deal will put Afghanistan to greater misery as the regional powers will take advantage of American absence and could further intensify the civil war.
Moreover, there is a high chance that the Taliban can return to its callous old ways and create a terror state where the girls would be barred from attending school, women cannot travel alone, stoning adulterers and so on.
India and the Taliban
For New Delhi, it's a challenging path ahead. The agreement has strengthened Pakistan's Army and the ISI's influence appears to be on the rise. Mullah Baradar did not mention India among the countries that supported the peace process but specifically thanked Pakistan for its constant assistance, work and support.
Moreover, the pact is silent on other anti-India terrorist groups such as Lakshar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed. India, not being a U.S. ally is not covered in the pact. In the past, India never gave recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001 and didn't initiate any direct talk.
On the other hand, India has always supported the Ghani led democratic government. It has stated its consistent support for an independent, pluralistic, inclusive and democratic Afghanistan. Its proximity to the Ghani government also drew from the commitment of counterterrorism against Pakistan.
Basically, the signing of the Peace Accord is just the beginning and not an end. The U.S. will have to see that the intra-Afghan talks give a positive result, keeping in mind the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan.
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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