InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 13

Afghan peace under threat

The future of a peace deal inked last year between the United States and the Afghan insurgent Taliban has become quite bleak as violence has peaked once again in the war-ravaged country, while the new American administration is also reviewing the agreement.

The Taliban have recently declared that if the US does not stick to the deal it signed last year on February 29, there would be large-scale war in the region. The Taliban warned that responsibility for the regional war would be on the US. The Taliban said leaving the agreement “will lead to a dangerous escalation” in the Afghan war. “If the Doha agreement is abrogated, it will lead to a major war, the responsibility of which shall fall squarely on the shoulders of America,” an announcement from the group warned.

It may be mentioned that under the terms of the agreement between Washington and the Taliban, the US would withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by May 31, 2021. However, the deal included that the pullout of all US troops from Afghanistan would be linked to the cessation of hostilities by the insurgents. Since then, there has been an escalation of violence in Afghanistan and there have been many attacks, killing hundreds of people across the country. However, most of the attacks were not owned by the Taliban. In a fresh spate of attacks, unidentified attackers killed at least 21 government troops in Afghanistan on February 4. The attacks came at a time when the US-brokered peace talks between the Taliban and the President Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government remain stalled on a host of issues, specifically the cessation of hostilities by the Taliban.

Recently, a bipartisan US congressional panel recommended that President Biden should extend the May 1 deadline set in the agreement with the Taliban for pulling out all American forces from the South Asian nation. The Afghanistan Study Group, in its recent report, called for strictly linking further US troop drawdown to a reduction in violence and progress in the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks. It warned that removing all American and NATO forces by the May deadline could lead to a civil war in the country, destabilise the region and revive the al-Qaeda terror threat.

It is really unfortunate that the historical deal between the US and the Taliban is falling apart as the truce was a silver lining for lasting peace in Afghanistan. It is important to note that there may be an escalation of violence in Afghanistan but responsibility for all terrorist attacks may not be placed on the Taliban. The reason is that firstly most of the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State, another terrorist organisation, which is a rival group of the Taliban and has extra-regional interests than the Taliban, who have always been focused on Afghanistan and call their violence a “liberation movement.” Secondly, it is nonsensical on part of the Taliban to increase violence when they have already struck a deal in which they have been the virtual winner as Washington promised to pull out all its troops, which has always been the main demand of the Taliban since 2001.

The US-Taliban deal included that the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan would depend on a successful intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, the Afghan government has not been much interested in intra-Afghan talks. At the very outset, the ostensibly historic deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban reached for restoring peace to Afghanistan became quite questionable as President Ashraf Ghani had refused to respect the terms of the agreement. The agreement between Washington and the Afghan Taliban, inter alia, included the withdrawal of all remaining around 8,000 US personnel from Afghanistan in 13 months and the setting free of more than 5,000 Taliban inmates from Afghan jails. The deal also envisaged an intra-Afghan group dialogue soon.

The peace agreement signed by the US President Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, himself an Afghan by birth, and the Taliban political head, Abdul Ghani Birader, was extremely important as it was the first time in the last 19 years after the US overthrew the Afghan Taliban regime in October 2001, in the aftermath of the September 9, 2001 terrorist attacks in America, that the Taliban had reached an agreement with Washington. The agreement is important because it has paved the way for the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan and provided a roadmap for it. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, without realising the importance of the agreement, refused to accept it. The problem of President Ghani is that his nominees or any Afghan official was not part of the deal whereas he claimed to be an important stakeholder in any negotiations.

While the Afghan government, whether of President Karzai or of President Ghani, could not be able to control the country, they blame the Taliban for being the stooges of Pakistan. This is despite the fact that the US, the main party to the Afghan conflict theatre, has recognised the Taliban as a key political stakeholder. It was after the recognition of the Taliban as a genuine political force that it engaged in talks with them. Later, Ghani’s government, under pressure from Washington, entered into talks with the Taliban and there has not been much headway even after several rounds. However, the responsibility is more on the Afghan government than the Taliban. On their part, the Taliban have also refused to give up violence because violence is their hallmark and they think that they could only have their way by attacking the government and people. This is not an appropriate attitude on their part.

Unfortunately, Ashraf Ghani has learnt nothing from history and, therefore, in the beginning he had refused to set free Taliban inmates, arguing that the fate of his country could not be decided by Washington and Pakistan. Obviously, the fate of any country could not be and ought not to be decided by some other country but if a state and its government fail to establish their writ over its territory and people, then their legitimacy becomes questionable. If Ghani did not agree with the terms of the agreement between the US and the Taliban he should have unequivocally told the US beforehand that any deal between them would not be acceptable to him. However, he waited so that to see the outcome of the agreement and when the outcome challenged his position and regime he refused to abide by it. However, Washington, the main power in Afghanistan, forced Ghani to start peace talks with the Taliban. However, he has never been sincere about the process of intra-Afghan talks. It is suspected that many attacks in Afghanistan have been carried out by the country’s notorious intelligence agency and the IS, known by its local acronym, Daesh, and the blame of both kinds of attacks have been put on the Taliban by Afghan authorities.

The new US President Joe Biden must understand the situation in Afghanistan and stick to the peace deal. Nevertheless, it is equally important to understand that the withdrawal of all US troops by May this year could push Afghanistan into extreme violence.