The fragile peace deal between the United States and the Taliban appeared to hang in the balance as the U.S. Defense Department announced its first airstrike against Taliban forces in 11 days and bitter disagreements between the radical Islamist movement and the Afghan government, as well as internal divisions in Kabul, threatened to nullify the pact.
- The deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban sets the stage for America to wind down the longest war in its history.
- It went into Afghanistan in October 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, with the goals of defeating terrorists and rebuilding and stabilising the central Asian country.
- Almost 19 years later, the U.S. seeks to exit Afghanistan with assurances from the Taliban that the insurgents will not allow Afghan soil to be used by transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and that they would engage the Kabul government directly to find a lasting solution to the civil war.
Why did the US quit?
- America’s desperation is understandable.
- The Afghan war is estimated to have cost $2-trillion, with more than 3,500 American and coalition soldiers killed. Afghanistan lost hundreds of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers.
- After all these, the Taliban is at its strongest moment since the U.S. launched the war.
- The insurgents control or contest the government control in half of the country, mainly in its hinterlands.
- The war had entered into a stalemate long ago and the U.S. failed to turn it around despite both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump having sent additional troops.
Background of The Taliban
The Taliban ( literally meaning “students”) or Taleban, who refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan currently waging war (an insurgency, or jihad) within that country.
- After the Soviet Union intervened and occupied Afghanistan in 1979, Islamic mujahideen fighters engaged in war with those Soviet forces.
- A while later, the US CIA and the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate (GID) funnelled funding and equipment through the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) to the Afghan mujahideen
- About 90,000 Afghans, including several bountied terrorists were trained by Pakistan’s ISI during the 1980s.
- Hence it can be concluded that the Taliban have arisen from those US-Saudi-Pakistan-supported mujahideen: The West helped the Taliban to fight the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan.
- Early Taliban were motivated by the suffering among the Afghan people, which they believed resulted from power struggles between Afghan groups not adhering to the moral code of Islam; in their religious schools they had been taught a belief in strict Islamic law.
- The military ambitions of the afghans led to its the infamous civil war from 1992-96 which ultimately demanded a political emirate.
- The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001 and was supported by close US allies.
- Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.
- US President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the FBI since 1998.
- The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks and ignored demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects apart from bin Laden.
- The US demand was dismissed by the Taliban with meaningless delaying tactics. Disgusted with it, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001.
India and the Taliban
- India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
- New Delhi nurses bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks as such on Parliament, Pathankot and in Pulwama.
- Quite predictably, Mullah Baradar did not name India among the countries that supported the peace process, but specially thanked Pakistan for the “support, work and assistance” provided.
- The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
- India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
- But its foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.
- The US and Taliban signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months.
- The pact is between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban) and the US.
- The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.
Key elements of the deal
- The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously.
- And all troops will be out within 14 months — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (could be interpreted to mean “intelligence” personnel).
- The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “It will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies”.
- While Miller said the reference to al-Qaeda is important, the pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed.
- Again, India, not being an US ally, is not covered under this pact.
- UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29) and US sanctions by August 27.
- The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
- This is a possible trouble spot because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this big up-front concession to Taliban.
- The joint declaration says the US will facilitate discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.
- While there are no numbers or deadlines in the joint declaration, the US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March.
- The intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start in Oslo.
- This is identified as another potential “trouble spot”.
- The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicate actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.
Implications of the Deal: An analysis
Faced with no other way, the U.S. just wanted to leave Afghanistan. But the problem is with the way it is getting out.
A bad deal indeed
- The fundamental issue with the U.S.’s Taliban engagement is that it deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the insurgents do not see the government as legitimate rulers.
- By giving in to the Taliban’s demand, the U.S. has practically called into question the legitimacy of the government it backs.
- Second, the U.S. has made several concessions to the Taliban in the agreement. The Taliban was not pressed enough to declare a ceasefire. Both sides settled for a seven-day “reduction of violence” period before signing the deal.
- The U.S., with some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, has committed to pull them out in a phased manner in return for the Taliban’s assurances that it would sever ties with other terrorist groups and start talks with the Kabul government.
- But the Taliban, whose rule is known for strict religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities, has not made any promises on whether it would respect civil liberties or accept the Afghan Constitution.
An adieu to democracy in Afghanistan
- The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
- This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.
- It has made it unambiguous that it wants an Islamic regime.
- The U.S., in a desperate bid to exit the Afghan war, has practically abandoned the Kabul government and millions of Afghans who do not support the Taliban’s violent, tribal Islamism, to the mercy of insurgents.
- The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the medieval practices of its 1996-2001 regimes.
Being the all-time loser
- Afghanistan being rugged and mountainous, ethnically heterogeneous, and poorly developed; foreign powers are intervening on both sides of the conflict.
- The Taliban got what it wanted — the withdrawal of foreign troops — without making any major concession.
- The U.S. withdrawal will invariably weaken the Kabul government, altering the balance of power both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.
- All of these factors are known to extend the duration of insurgencies, and the civil war has indeed been going on seemingly forever.
- The US-Taliban deal will not change this situation. Additionally, this deal is only between the United States and the Taliban.
Best served American vendetta
- The deal does little to change either the circumstances in Afghanistan or the trajectory of the possible outcomes.
- What it does do is give the White House is a pretext for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan, a move that virtually ends 19 years war.
- The deal technically qualifies as one step down the path to a potential peace deal for the Afghan civil war.
- The US was never going to build a functioning liberal democracy with a Western-style military in Afghanistan.
- It better recognized its defeat and considered not to sacrifice more American soldiers and inflict more suffering on the Afghan people.
- Although Trump, in an election year, will likely try to sell this as a peace deal and an end to America’s longest war, this deal is unlikely to deliver either of those things.
Implications for India
- India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
- India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
- There has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
- Due to So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
- These high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.
- Terrorism safe havens are mostly a myth.
- Failed states and ungoverned territory do produce more terrorism within that space, but terrorists rarely travel beyond the immediate borders of these spaces and almost never travel beyond the immediate region.
- Post-9/11 efforts to limit the transnational flow of resources and known terrorists have inhibited the ability of terrorists to strike out, and can continue to do so without a military presence in Afghanistan.
- Some are concerned that the withdrawal of military forces will inhibit counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan.
- However, the current strategy of seeking and destroying terrorist members is not particularly effective against groups as institutionalized and financially secure as either Al Qaeda or even the Taliban.
- These organizations easily replace lost members without significant disruptions to operations.
- The US military presence itself was one of the biggest inhibitors to peace in Afghanistan, as the widely unpopular Taliban rely on the fight against a foreign occupation as their primary source of legitimacy.
- It was always incompetent to consider that military interventions were the best, or only, tool to pursue these interests. But after the 19 years of war, sudden exit will do more harm.
- The deal may not change much on the ground, but if peace was the immediate requirement, an indefinite US military presence would have never achieved it..
- Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
- Diplomatic, policing, and intelligence cooperation with countries that border Afghanistan can help to contain terrorist groups and inhibit their ability to travel beyond the region.