After US-Taliban agreement, intra-Afghan talks to be the main decider

The upcoming intra-Afghan peace negotiations, likely to take place 10 days after the agreement, will decide if the peace process between the US and the Taliban can be sustainable

March 03, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
(L to R) US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign the US-Taliban peace agreement during a ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020. - The United States is signed a landmark deal with the Taliban, laying out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months as it seeks an exit from its longest-ever war. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

After signing a historic peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha, the US has officially agreed to withdraw its troops stationed in Afghanistan. The several rounds of peace talks saw many ups and downs. According to the deal, the US will cut down the number of its troops from 12,000 to 8,600 over the next 135 days, followed up with a complete withdrawal within 14 months.

As per the agreement, the Taliban must begin talks with the government in Kabul and cut all ties with the Al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as with any other forces that oppose the US. 

However, observers note that the upcoming intra-Afghan peace negotiations, likely to take place 10 days after the agreement, will be the main decider of the fate of the Afghan conflict. The extent to which considerations of opposing ethnic groups are accommodated, along with other issues such as the participation of women in a possible Taliban-led government, will be negotiated upon during these talks.

As far as the release of political prisoners is considered, the deal makes it clear that the Taliban must release at least 1,000 hostages in exchanges for nearly 5,000 Taliban fighters. On March 1, the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani exposed the prevailing faultines by rejecting the speedy release of Taliban fighters, saying, “The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition.”  

As of now, it appears that the US-led forces are likely to leave behind the weaponry which was brought in to support the Afghan forces. This will be another worrying factor for the Afghan government, besides the growing fear and apprehension of not being accepted as the legitimate government by the Taliban. In such an event, president Ashraf Ghani, along with his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who has very recently claimed that he will be forming a parallel government, might end up in a contest with the Taliban. The current situation may trigger another cycle of violence, not different from when the Soviet Union departed from Afghanistan on August 15, 1989. The immediate fighting between warlords that had followed paved the way for the arrival of the Taliban.

Afghanistan and the US invasion

Afghanistan has a conflict-ridden past, beset with foreign invasions, external interventions and internal conflicts. Its territory was used as a proxy battleground during the Cold War that eventually weakened the Soviet Union. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union led to further violence in the form of a civil war which subsequently resulted in a new force in the form of the Taliban gaining control over the region from 1994 until 9/11 changed the face of Afghanistan yet again. 

American intervention in Afghanistan in lieu of the “war on terror” plunged the country into further instability which has continued for almost two decades. The US justified its illegal invasion on the pretext that the Taliban were barbaric. However, this policy has completely changed now, with the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and other US officials calling the Taliban an “insurgent group” which has equal rights of representation in the country and plays a key role in bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.