Doha, Qatar: After 18 months of intense negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, the two signatories met in Doha to sign the historic ‘Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.’ Attendees of the conference included senior dignitaries from nearly 30 countries, as the Afghan government – including Afghan women– were sidelined both in the negotiations and the signing ceremony for the agreement. This raises some fundamental questions about the deal itself and the possibility of it bringing lasting peace in Afghanistan.
Americas Longest War
The United States has had a heavy military presence and conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2001. The war started as an American retaliation against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks. This war was fought by three administrations – the Bush, Obama, and Trump administration– costing the United States an upwards of 2 trillion dollars. The human cost has been no less significant, with over 3,000 American, 456 British, and 157,000 Afghan lives lost.
On Saturday, the agreement was signed by the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the deputy leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. They agreed on the complete withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan in the next fourteen months. This is to take place gradually with 5,000 US troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in the next 135 days, including the closure of five US military bases. In return, the Taliban have agreed to deny terrorist organisations safe heavens and negotiate a political settlement with the Afghan government. Moreover, the Americans have promised the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government, who is not a signatory of the Doha Agreement. The agreed date is set for the 10th of March.
As a way to include the Afghan government in this process, a joint-declaration between the U.S. and Afghanistan came from Kabul. The Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, The American Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, and NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, essentially reiterated the announcements coming from Doha. The declaration from Kabul was not anticipated and it would have been a symbolic victory for the Taliban if President Ghani was excluded. Both events in Kabul and Doha were scheduled to take place at the same time. This gave the Afghan government a false sense of control over the decision that was made in Qatar as they did not negotiate a single term of the agreement.
The lack of foresight In A Rushed Agreement
Hours after the signing ceremony in Doha, US President, Donald Trump, speaking at a White House press conference said, “If bad things happen, we’ll go back.” Such ambiguities plague the entire process and have made the settlement prone to risks on multiple fronts. First, many of Trump’s critics, including some twenty-two House Republicans have expressed “serious concerns” about the administration’s plans regarding the settlement with the Taliban. It can be considered a rushed agreement to score foreign policy points and talking points for Trump’s re-election campaign. Another concern is the future role of the Taliban in the Afghan government. A power-sharing arrangement is likely to take place, and many fear a dominant Taliban presence in Kabul. Having the Taliban in the government, the achievements of the past two decades, including women’s rights and freedom of speech and media, might get compromised and sacrificed to achieve lasting peace.
Saturday’s agreement is significant because it may conclude the longest war in American history. It was an important undertaking for the Trump administration because reaching a settlement can help Trump in his re-election campaign. It was also significant for the Taliban because they achieved their objective of ending the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan. However, the reality is that this does not guarantee the end of the conflict in Afghanistan. Not only did the Afghan government did not have a seat at the negotiating table or play a role in this agreement that involves the future of the country, but the fight between the Taliban and Afghan forces continue. The scheduled intra-Afghan talks in the next coming days, however, brings some hope.