FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 15

Afghan pullout: Peace or retreat?

US troops have started withdrawing from Afghanistan after a peace deal with the Taliban. The pullout marks the beginning of the end of the United States’ longest foreign military campaign, with both sides claiming victory.

In return for the United States’ partial troops withdrawal over 18 months, the Taliban have promised to help fight terror in Afghanistan. The next crucial step is intra-Afghan talks, in which all factions would negotiate a road map for their country’s future. As the deal 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 held talks with the US from a position of strength as they control more territory than the Afghan government.

US President Trump wanted to get out of the “endless war”, which cost America $50 billion a year, as it was his promise to his own voter base in the US. He is fulfilling the promise before running for a second term. 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. According to the Time, there is a difference between peace and retreat. The Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban represents a full retreat. It’s an agreement that most Republicans would deplore if a Democrat president made the deal, and they’d be right to be angry. There is no meaningful argument that the fate of Afghanistan is somehow irrelevant to our national security. The war in Afghanistan was no “war of choice.” On 9/11 our nation suffered its worst attack since Pearl Harbor. It is true that the conflict in Afghanistan has been long (19 years), deadly (more than 2,400 Americans have lost their lives), and frustrating. It is true that Americans want it to end. And a true peace deal would bring welcome relief not just to the United States, but also to an Afghan nation that has seen indescribable pain and suffering. But there is no hope for peace when your opponent intends to continue the fight, and the hope for peace diminishes further still when the proposed peace agreement diminishes allies and strengthens your enemies, it noted.

The peace agreement has already survived a major roadblock, when the Afghan government refused to swap prisoners with the Taliban. Under the US-Taliban agreement, the US will gradually withdraw its 12,000 service members in exchange for a Taliban commitment to neither aid nor harbor terrorists, as well as to exchange prisoners, and to enter into talks with the US-backed Afghan government. Taliban members will also receive sanctions relief as part of the deal. The agreement also stipulates that Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban must release political prisoners before talks between the two sides. The talks will be very tricky, because the militants do not accept Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and call it an American puppet with little control outside the capital.

The rivalry between President Ashraf Ghani and his archrival, Abdullah Abdullah, also weakened the position of the Afghan government before crucial talks with the Taliban. Both took the oath of office as the president of Afghanistan in different ceremonies after Abdullah accused Ghani of winning the election through fraud.

It is a fact that the US had restarted negotiations with the Taliban for peace in Afghanistan from a position of weakness. Last year, a confidential trove of government documents obtained by the Washington Post revealed that senior US officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in US history. They included more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials. The documents also contradicted a long chorus of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting. Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the US government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.

Many US analysts have called the agreement with the Taliban a defeat without humiliation. The 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 almost two decades defending, at enormous cost, would survive — or that the gains Afghans have made in women’s and other civil rights would be preserved, they say.

The US had initiated the talks after sensing a humiliating defeat, which would have undermined its respect and prestige and emboldened enemies elsewhere. However, 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. 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.