Saturday, July 24, 2021

The US-Afghanistan Peace-Deal: Hope Or Fear?

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Two days after signing of the peace deal between the US and the Taliban for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan; the Taliban announced that it is resuming its military operations against the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANDSF). Following nine rounds of discussions, the much awaited peace-deal was signed between US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban deputy leader Mulla Abdul Ghani Biradar in Doha, Qatar. The peace deal has four main components: Cease-fire, withdrawal of foreign forces, intra–Afghan negotiations, and counter-terrorism assurances. Under the agreement, the US has agreed that its’ troops will begin withdrawing within 10 days, with the goal of reducing the US footprint to 8,600 within 135 days. The deal lays out a 14-month timeline for a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At the same time, the United States has also agreed to immediately and substantially reinforce the Taliban by seeking the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by 20 March. Further, Washington has agreed to release all remaining prisoners over the course of the subsequent three months. However, the deal has raised both fears and hopes at the domestic and international levels. The fear stems from the Taliban’s hard-line ideology regarding their approach to the Afghan people and to the outside world and their affiliation to other radical groups. Many fear that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan may create a security vacuum and result in destabilization of the entire South Asian region.

While the peace process is supported by a vast majority of Afghans, many issues remain to be worked out during the intra-Afghan negotiations, including sharing power, disarming and reintegrating Taliban fighters into the Afghan civil society. Determining the future of the country’s democratic institutions and its Constitution is also a vexed issue. Further, a weak Afghan central government, afflicted by ethnic, sectarian, and tribal differences could complicate the process. The Taliban appears to be stronger now than at any point in the last eighteen years. With an estimated sixty thousand fighters, the group controls many districts throughout the country and continues to launch major attacks, including in Kabul and on Afghan security bases.

However, different factions of Taliban and other groups have not shown any interest in the peace talks and may continue attacking US troops, making the peace accord fragile. Taliban have already rejected any talks with the Afghan government until the Kabul government releases 5,000 Taliban prisoners; whereas President Ghani’s government is understandably reluctant to simply give thousands of reinforcements back to its deadly enemy. A series of attacks across Afghanistan, a possible new command from the Taliban and a disagreement over releasing Taliban prisoners is threatening to derail the peace process.

Pakistan, which assisted the Taliban and helped the US in negotiations, has overtly welcomed the treaty, but will not allow it to succeed until the US helps Islamabad to come out of  the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) ‘grey list.’ The venue of future talks has also not been announced, although Germany and Norway have offered to host the talks. The bottom-line is that the ‘peace deal’ is still not quite a done deal. Given the treacherous political and security landscape of Afghanistan, a lot is going to happen, both on the battlefield as well as on the negotiating table. 

India is a strong supporter of Afghanistan and has till now committed $3 billion for developing the country’s infrastructure and cultivate business since 2001. New Delhi is involved in rebuilding the war ravaged country’s education and health systems. New Delhi’s main goal is to minimize Pakistan’s influence and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

The Indian position on the Taliban is clear. India has disagreed with the legitimization of the group as a political entity. India supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process that results in sustainable peace. India believes in a united, sovereign, democratic, inclusive, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan. Durable peace can only be achieved if the international community helps Afghanistan preserve the achievements the country has made since 2001.

Script: Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst on Af-Pak Affairs

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