By: Dr. Rajkumar Singh
The Afghan peace process comprises the proposals and negotiations in a bid to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Although sporadic efforts have taken place since the war began in 2001, negotiations and the peace movement intensified in 2018 amid talks between the Taliban, which is the main insurgent group fighting against the Afghan government and American troops; and the United States, of which 20,000 soldiers maintain a presence within the country to support the Afghan government. Most of the talks have taken place in Doha, the capital of Qatar. It is expected that the recent mutual agreement between the Taliban and the United States would be followed by a phased American withdrawal and the start of intra-Afghan peace talks. Besides the United States, regional powers such as Pakistan, China and Russia, as well as NATO will play a part in facilitating the peace process.
The historic Agreement
In the context the most important understanding between them was reached
on February 29, 2020, when the U.S. signed a conditional peace agreement with the Taliban, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months if the Taliban uphold the terms of the agreement. On March 1, 2020, however, the Afghan government, which was not a party to the deal, rejected the U.S. and Taliban’s call for a prisoner swap by March 10, 2020, with President Ghani stating that such an agreement will require further negotiation and will also not be implemented as a precondition for future peace negotiations. On March 10, 2020, Ghani signed a decree agreeing to swap 1,500 Taliban prisoners starting March 14, 2020, but on the condition that they sign pledges agreeing to not return to combat. The same day, it was also revealed that there were no plans for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Doha, Qatar — The United States signed a deal with the Taliban on Saturday that sets the stage to end America’s longest war — the nearly two-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan that began after the Sept. 11 attacks, killed tens of thousands of people, vexed three White House administrations and left mistrust and uncertainty on all sides. The agreement lays out a timetable for the final withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan, the impoverished Central Asian country once unfamiliar to many Americans that now symbolizes endless conflict, foreign entanglements and an incubator of terrorist plots. The war in Afghanistan in some ways echoes the American experience in Vietnam. In both, a superpower bet heavily on brute strength and the lives of its young, then walked away with seemingly little to show.
Main objectives in view
American efforts to instill a democratic system in the country, and to improve opportunities for women and minorities, are at risk if the Taliban, which banned girls from schools and women from public life, become dominant again. Corruption is still rampant, the country’s institutions are feeble, and the economy is heavily dependent on American and other international aid. The agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, which followed more than a year of stop-and-start negotiations and conspicuously excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government, is not a final peace deal, is filled with ambiguity, and could still unravel. But it is seen as a step toward negotiating a more sweeping agreement that some hope could eventually end the insurgency of the Taliban, the militant movement that once ruled Afghanistan under a severe Islamic code. The war cost $2 trillion and took the lives of more than 3,500 American and coalition troops and tens of thousands of Afghans since the U.S. invasion in aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, which were plotted by Al Qaeda leaders under the protection of the Taliban The agreement sets the stage for further negotiations between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban, a militant Islamist group that once ruled Afghanistan and provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden. American officials hope those talks will lead to a power-sharing deal, a permanent end to the bloody conflict and a full withdrawal of American forces. But a permanent peace – and an end to America’s longest war – rests on a commitment by the Taliban, a fractious insurgency, to end its deadly attacks on U.S. forces and to renounce its ties to al-Qaida. “If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” the president said in a statement released ahead of Saturday’s signing ceremony in Doha. Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. negotiator for Afghanistan, signed the pact as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on. In remarks at the ceremony, Pompeo said the deal was based on the reality that the conflict was militarily unwinnable without a massive deployment of additional U.S. forces. The Taliban also saw the war as a lost cause, he noted. ”This is a hopeful moment, but it’s only the beginning,” Pompeo said. ”There’s a great deal of hard work ahead.”
Attached hopes and fears
In the coming weeks, the United States will begin a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, reducing its forces from 13,000 troops to 8,600. Pompeo said the remaining U.S. troops will serve as leverage to ensure the Taliban lives up to its promises. In Kabul, Defense Secretary Mark Esper echoed that message – saying the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops would be based on the Taliban reining in its fighters. ”Should the Taliban fail to honor their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to sit with fellow Afghans and deliberate on the future of their country. Moreover, the United States would not hesitate to nullify the agreement,” Esper said in prepared remarks. If the Taliban fulfills its commitments to renounce al-Qaida and begin intra-Afghan talks, the U.S. agreed to a withdrawal of all remaining American forces from Afghanistan within 10 months. The U.S. also agreed to immediately facilitate a controversial prisoner exchange, under which up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government could be released. The Taliban would free as many as 1,000 prisoners, as demanded by the Afghan government.
This historic deal has been years in the making, as all sides kept seeking advantage on the battlefield.
The agreement is born of America’s determination to bring troops home and a recognition, at least by some Taliban, that talks are the best route to return to Kabul. It’s a significant step forward, despite deep uncertainty and scepticism over where it will lead. When the only alternative is unending war, many Afghans seem ready to take this risk for peace. Taliban leaders say they’ve changed since their harsh rule of the 1990s still seared in the memory of many, and most of all Afghan women. This process will test the Taliban, but also veteran Afghan leaders of the past, and a new generation which has come of age in the last two decades and is hoping against hope for a different future.
The author is Professor and Head University Department of Political Science B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura.