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Op-Ed: A bad deal with Taliban will throw Afghanistan into the pyre

16 Aug 2019 The Khaama Press News Agency

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Khaama Press News Agency. We welcome opinions and submissions to Khaama Press Opinions/Exclusives – Please email them to [email protected]

Men dig graves to burry the war victims in Afghanistan

Finally after almost 18 years of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has now realized that there is no military victory in Afghanistan; therefore negotiating a comprehensive peace deal with Taliban is the key to ending the Afghan war. The Afghan war which has started after the 9/11under the ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ is now the longest war in the U.S. history. It is also called ‘the endless’ or ‘forever war’ of the U.S. The Afghan war has stretched for nearly two decades, taking the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 3,500 American and coalition forces, and costing billions of dollars.

The U.S has overthrown the Taliban regime in

Afghanistan to eradicate militancy in Afghan soil, but on the ground we have

witnessed the opposition’s enhancement in terms of military and worsening of

security circumstances inside the country which has created certain doubts

among Afghans and in the world about the U.S role in Afghanistan. The U.S. placed

its foothold with clear objectives of fighting against the international terrorists

groups. They promised to support Afghans in state and nation building and sign

a treaty of partnership with Afghanistan, but in reality they have taken many actions

and steps that were against Afghanistan’s national interests. This has raised

doubts among Afghans on the U.S. commitment towards Afghanistan. Some critiques

of American policies in Afghanistan believe that the U.S. never wanted to build

a strong, peaceful and self-sufficient Afghanistan. They say Americans are in

Afghanistan for their own obscure and vile interests.

While the U.S. policy

was never reliable about Afghanistan, it has become more unpredictable and

disruptive during the Trump’s Administration. The 2017 South Asia Policy of

Trump’s Administration aimed at breaking the military stalemate in Afghanistan

by sending an additional 4,000 soldiers, adopting a condition based policy with

no predetermined withdrawal date, giving the U.S. forces a freer hand to go

after Taliban, putting Pakistan on notice, strengthening Afghan capabilities,

and a commitment to “never let up until the terrorists

are dealt a lasting defeat ,”but within a year the U.S. has

started a radical reversal of the policy and on December 21, 2018, President Trump has announced to

pull troops from Syria and to reduce the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan

by half.

President Trump was never a supporter of Afghanistan’s war, but his

doctrine for Afghanistan have changed early and often in his brief political

career. Before taking office, Trump’s position on Afghanistan could be best

summarized as “Get the hell out of

Afghanistan!”, but when he took office and finally after eight months, announced

a new policy on Afghanistan; it was similar to the Obama’s policy with some

alterations. After two years of Trump’s Policy in Afghanistan, things got

indisputably worse. The main aim behind authorizing of additional troops to

Afghanistan was to blunt Taliban’s momentum and to convince them that a

military victory was impossible, but it hasn’t worked, because of increased

support to Taliban from Pakistan, Russia and Iran.  Looking at this, the Trump administration

decided to adopt a radical reversal of the policy and appointed Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad

to begin direct talks with Taliban.

Khalilzad political savvy and the former U.S. envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan

who has previously criticized Pakistan for harboring terrorists, soon realized

that negotiating with Taliban without the Pakistan’s consent and support will

be meaningless, because the fact remains that Pakistan has maintained strong

influence on Taliban. He asked Pakistan to help him to get the Taliban to

negotiating table in return of financial aids and guaranteeing Pakistan

strategic depth in Afghanistan. The Trump’s Administration has clearly instructed

Khalilzad that his negotiating time frame is ahead of Trump’s re-election in

2020; therefore any deal had to be concluded

before the end of 2019. This time frame was also confirmed by the U.S.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he said, “I hope we have a peace deal

before September 1st. That’s certainly our mission set,”

The U.S. and Taliban

held eight rounds of Doha Talks to cover four issues:

a cessation of hostilities; an intra-Afghan peace dialogue; assurance from Taliban that Afghan territory

would not be used for attacking US interests;and US troop withdrawal.

While Taliban made it clear that their

priority was the last issue, a possible deal will not lead to full withdrawal

of the U.S. troops at once. There are also chances that the U.S. would likely continue

to operate out of several bases including Bagram, Kandahar and Kabul, in order

to preserve the U.S. air power. Also, the U.S. would possibly like to maintain

a few thousand troops for strengthening the Afghan capabilities. In the last

round of talks, apparently both side have agreed, but the details of the deals

are yet to be known. While there are many questions about the U.S. closed doors

talks with Taliban, the main concern however is, what will be the consequences of

a bad deal with Taliban or a what if Trump wants a troop drawdown only so that

he can tell voters that he is ending America’s ‘forever wars’ before the 2020


The U.S has overthrown the Taliban government

to fight against the international terrorism including the Taliban and other

militancy and help Afghans to build a stable state with a modern democratic government,

but in the reality the security situation of Afghanistan has consistently

worsened. Mafia, corruption, narcotics, warlordism and illicit activities have

been greatly increased over the years. This created certain doubts among

Afghans about the U.S peace building role in Afghanistan. Looking at this, why

would Afghans trust the U.S. to decide their fate? What if in a bad deal, Trump

surrenders the Afghan government to Taliban or what if the Taliban wouldn’t

agree with the Afghan government?

So a bad deal is a

deal which:

Surrenders Afghanistan to Taliban and Pakistan and allowing Taliban to

establish their medieval government in Afghanistan. Allows Taliban to win before negotiating with the Afghan government for

a political agreement.

The U.S. peace talks

with Taliban by sidelining the Afghan government clearly show that the Trump’s

Administration is highly desperate for negotiating a withdrawal agreement with

Taliban to tell voters that Trump is ending

America’s ‘forever wars’. But the fact remains that a

withdrawal agreement alone will not lead to a long lasting peace in

Afghanistan. The reality is that there can be

no peace unless Taliban and Afghan security forces de-escalate, and this will

require talks between Taliban and the Afghan government for a comprehensive

power sharing deal. However, Taliban wants to bypass this by entering

government through the back door, using the interim government structure. The

interim government will not only put the infant Afghan democracy at stake, but

will also create strains within the Afghan national security forces. It should

be noted that, there is a rise in ethnic and political polarization in Afghanistan;

hence the political dynamics in the ‘New Afghanistan’ have been changed in many

ways. The ‘New Afghanistan’ isn’t the Afghanistan of 1990s. Therefore, a move

to establish a medieval style radical government in today’s Afghanistan doesn’t

seem possible. Such a move will greatly increase the risk of fragmentation and

the likelihood of a vicious ‘Civil or Proxy war’ in Afghanistan.

Though little details about the U.S. and

Taliban deal has been shared, but it looks that in the last round of Doha talks

the U.S. and Taliban have at least agreed on the following issues:

Cancellation of presidential elections and

formation of interim government;Withdrawal of the U.S. troops within two

years or a little less, depending on the conditions and the success of Taliban talks

with the Afghan government;Assurance from Taliban that Afghan territory

would not be used for attacking the U.S. interests;Direct talks between Taliban and Afghan

officials. This could be the most complicated part of the peace process. The

talks will decide country’s future government and how power will be shared. Preparations

are underway for those talks in Oslo and the Afghan government has said that

they have finalized a list of 15 negotiators.

However, Taliban are reluctant to agree on

comprehensive cease-fire. They say if they agree to a ceasefire initially and

then the lengthy power sharing of the peace process hits a wall, they will

struggle to remobilize their guerilla forces and lose the only leverage they

have which is violence.

Whether the American peace deal with Taliban will

actually bring peace and stability to a devastated Afghanistan will largely depends,

firstly on the nature of peace deal, and secondly on the success of the Afghan

government talks with Taliban.

Meanwhile, elections in Afghanistan have been

postponed twice and will now be held on September 28 to give time for the Doha

talks. But a deteriorating security environment makes it difficult for a

credible election to be held. Now, the biggest question is, whether elections

should be held or it should be postponed?

For the Afghan government, elections seem to

be the priority, because it will give them the necessary power to negotiate

from a stronger position with Taliban, but for the US, Taliban and some

oppositions of current government, peace is the priority. They think if

elections are held then it will be difficult to negotiate with the Afghan

government. They say election can jeopardize the historical chance for the

peace, because President Ashraf Ghani wants to extend his term for another five

years. But President Ashraf Ghani says he has the responsibility to safeguard

the national interests of Afghanistan, therefore he is standing firm to defend

Afghan democracy, its constitution and values. It is important to mention that,

the real motive of some opposition forces especially those who have lost their

positions and power during President Ashraf Ghani’s Administration, isn’t actually

the ‘peace’ but rather a chance to remove President Ashraf Ghani from the


If elections are cancelled, an interim

government will be formed to prepare the ground for fresh elections after

constitutional amendments and electoral reforms that would be decided by the

traditional Loya Jirga process over two years. However, this approach is

strongly opposed by the educated and liberal Afghan groups, including women,

who see it as a step back from the democratic rights and principles enshrined

in the 2004 Constitution. There is a deepening sense of unease and betrayal in

the Afghan government which feels that its legitimacy is being eroded by the U.S.

tacitly making deals and leaving it in the lurch.

It should be mentioned that Taliban are

viewed with intense hatred by a wide cross-section of the Afghanistan population,

due to their earlier barbaric medieval subjugation of Afghanistan spearheaded

by Pakistan Army. Therefore, if the U.S. compromises to install a Taliban

regime in Kabul, it will provide the possibility of a ‘Civil War’ in

Afghanistan and the portents suggest that, it will be more vicious than the last

one in view of the ongoing geopolitical churning. It is also very crucial to

understand that Pakistan upper hand in the peace process is a portent for

raising doubts on the peace process by Afghans. Afghans will never forget that

it is Pakistan and their protégés that have been destabilizing and brutalizing

Afghanistan ever since the 1970s; therefore patriots, educated and liberal

Afghans have a little trust on the current peace talks. While they strive for

peace, they see the current development as a plan of surrendering Afghanistan

to Taliban and Pakistan and or a conspiracy to putting Afghanistan Army and

constitutional values at stake.

Anyhow, if the U.S. negotiates a bad deal, it

will not only risk Afghanistan’s future, but will severely dent the American global

reputation and hegemony. Globally, the U.S. image will be badly dented as it

will be viewed as U.S. power on decline temporizing with Taliban as a terrorist

militia and together with Pakistan Army who for the last 18 years has been

undermining U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. It is important to note that

geopolitically, the U.S. mere withdrawal from Afghanistan, without a long

lasting peace, will create a power vacuum in Afghanistan with China, Russia and

Pakistan ready to jump into Afghanistan. Also if the U.S. fails, another costly military intervention will not be

easy. Such a move then will further deteriorate the situation in Afghanistan, because,

majority of Afghans will not support the U,S. Afghans will start fighting

against the U.S. because they will realize that this was the U.S. who supported

Taliban and risked Afghanistan’s future. If this happens, the U.S. will lose

its credibility and strategic depths in the south and central Asia.

It is important to note that, all Afghans are

tired of war, want peace, and accept that this requires reconciliation. But not

all Afghans want peace on the terms of reconciliation dictated by Taliban.

Today majority of the Afghan population is below 30 years and has lived for

most part in a conservative, but open society. That is why there is no national

consensus on reconciliation. In the absence of a national consensus, external

actors are able to intervene to support their own favorites. Consequently, the output

could be that prevailingly all the major stakeholders in Afghan conflict has

reached the consensus that peace with Taliban is a major step for stability in

Afghanistan and the region, for which U.S and foreign troops withdrawal is for


Meanwhile, the

regional states like China, Iran and Pakistan are also on the notion that it’s

time for U.S to withdraw from Afghanistan. Russia as a global power is also on the

same page with these states; therefore, it fully supports the U.S. efforts in

the reconciliation process of Afghan Taliban and recently hosted rounds of

dialogues between Afghan political leaders and Taliban leadership.

The people

inside Afghanistan assume the foreign troops are in their land for their own

sake and proxies which could reversely affect their future because the security

conditions are worsening day by day due to contradictory interests of regional

and global powers. Afghan government has also claimed several times the support

of neighbor and global powers for the insurgency in Afghanistan. On the

national level in Afghanistan some prominent political leaders are also either

in opposition to U.S and foreign troop’s presence or calling them responsible

for the insecurity in Afghanistan. .

Concluding, now luckily, there is a solid national, regional and international consensus on the fact that Afghan war doesn’t have a military solution. Therefore, the only solution to end the Afghan war will be a comprehensive peace deal with Taliban and a separate inclusive political agreement of Afghan government with Taliban over future government structure and power sharing based on Afghanistan key constitutional values. Any bad deal from the U.S. will not only be inglorious for Americans, but more importantly will put the infant democracy and fragile stability of Afghanistan in the great stake. A bad deal will throw Afghanistan into the pyre and will increase the chances of ‘Civil and Proxy War ’in Afghanistan. If the Trump’s Administration tries to negotiate an exit instead of a peace deal, the American hegemony will be severely dented around the world.

About Author

Zarif Aminyar

Zarif Aminyar is an Afghan professor, author and politician. He is an Alumni of Harvard Kennedy School EXED and Columbia Business School. He can be reached via [email protected]

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