InternationalVolume 14 Issue # 13

Afghan peace on Taliban’s terms

A proposed deal between the Taliban and the US administration has revived prospects for peace in Afghanistan after almost two decades of war. Concerns about the possibility of the Taliban ruling the country again have also grown as the militants are talking from a position of strength as they control more territory than the Afghan government.

Afghan soldiers have already started surrendering to the Taliban. In fact, the militants have taken more territory in Afghanistan this year than at any time in their 15-year struggle against the Western-supported Afghan government, according to United Nations data. At the same time, the Afghan military has suffered declining numbers and high attrition rates, according to data from the United States military. Afghan officials have said military casualty rates are historically high. However, US President Donald Trump wants to get out of the “endless war”, which costs America $50 billion a year. It was his promise to his own voter base in the US. In a recent interview, he said, “The Taliban are tired. And I think everybody’s tired. We’ve got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home.”

However, critics warn his impatience with the war in Afghanistan will lead him to withdraw troops too soon, leaving the country at risk of returning to the same volatile condition that prompted the invasion in the first place. The prospect of drawing down troops in Afghanistan has prompted some critics to note that President Donald Trump is telegraphing a withdrawal — the same thing he accused President Barack Obama of doing by saying he wanted to end the American combat mission in 2014.

The US media has called the possible agreement with the Taliban as a defeat without humiliation. “A tentative deal between the Trump administration and the Taliban appears to offer the United States a negotiated way out of its longest war — a prospect most Americans would welcome. Unfortunately, it seems to do so mostly on the enemy’s terms. US forces would leave the country, but there would be no guarantee that the government and political order they have spent 17 years defending, at enormous cost, would survive — or that the gains Afghans have made in women’s and other civil rights would be preserved. As described by envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the “framework” for an accord reached in talks begins with a commitment by the United States to a troop pullout and a Taliban pledge to prevent Afghan territory from serving as a base for international terrorism,” the Washington Post said in an editorial.

The newspaper warned, “A withdrawal of US and NATO forces would leave the Afghan government deeply vulnerable. As it is, its army and police forces have been suffering heavy losses and losing ground to the Taliban even with the backing of a modest number of Western troops. While some analysts believe the Taliban would not seek to re-create the fundamentalist and profoundly repressive regime they led up until late 2001, they remain implacably hostile to democracy. Afghan women say they fear any end to the conflict would come at their expense. It’s also not clear how the Taliban would deliver on their promise to prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”

According to former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ryan Crocker, the framework agreement was reached without the involvement of the Afghan government. “The Taliban have said all along that they refuse to negotiate with the government, considering the government the illegitimate puppet of the US occupation. By acceding to this Taliban demand, we have ourselves delegitimized the government we claim to support. This current process bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War. Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering; we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender. The Taliban will offer any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and they are back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them,” he said in an article in the Washington Post.

“One can be confident that the Taliban would follow through on the agreement. It’s not just because Taliban supporters and interlocutors, in public statements and private conversations, have almost universally acknowledged that hosting al Qaeda in the run-up to 9/11 was a dreadful mistake that cost them their rule over Afghanistan. It’s also because the Taliban are now engaged in a bitter fight with the forces of the Islamic State (who most certainly are anti-Western international terrorists) for control of parts of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s role as an enemy of the Islamic State (as well as prudent preparation for the possible collapse of the US-backed order in Kabul) has led Russia and China to launch talks with the Taliban,” noted the Foreign Policy magazine. “While the Pakistani military has backed the Afghan Taliban as a client movement against Indian influence in Afghanistan, it has absolutely no interest in encouraging a repeat of 9/11 and the disasters that followed for Pakistan.”

Analysts say the US has initiated the talks after sensing a humiliating defeat, which would have undermined its respect and prestige and emboldened enemies elsewhere. If the Taliban take control of Afghanistan, it would not only intensify civil war but pave the way for the collapse of the Afghan state. A full-scale civil war would increase the flow of Afghan refugees to Europe. In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, it could deal a death blow to liberal democracy in Europe, and the resulting European nationalist backlash would crush the entire image of US-led democracy in the world. To prevent it, the US would require an agreement with major concessions to Turkey and Iran, undermining America’s geopolitical position in the Middle East.

There are also questions whether a power-sharing agreement could be reached between the existing Afghan state and the Taliban, and if it were reached, whether it would stick at least long enough for the United States to withdraw without humiliation. If such a deal collapsed after a few years, it could be dreadful for Afghanistan, but the US public would have forgotten all about Afghanistan by then and the US establishment would find someone else to blame for its failure.