After eighteen months of negotiations and 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States of America and the Taliban have signed a historic peace deal. The agreement for “bringing peace to Afghanistan” has been signed between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is not recognized by the United States as a State, and the US on February 29 this year. The agreement provides that there will be a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, and the Afghan soil will not be used against the United States and its allies.
According to the American Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, the troop-withdrawal will be “condition-based”. The deal is not specific on what these conditions are, and what will happen if the conditions are breached. In that respect, there is considerable ambiguity in the deal. But the war-weary people of Afghanistan are yearning for peace.
The peace process has also created a globe-totting group within the Taliban leadership, who are no longer willing to take up arms and engage in blood-letting. Echoing that mood, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader, in a statement published in the New York Times, has recently expressed his view, strongly in favour of a civilian government in Afghanistan and end of violence in that benighted land.
However, one does not know exactly if the agreement will usher in real peace, or fuel more conflicts, and civil war. The US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 in six months. Coalition forces will also withdraw from the five military bases. The US and Taliban will work on a plan to expedite the release of all combat and political prisoners as a confidencebuilding measure.
Taliban, in their turn, have committed to prevent any group, or individual, including Al Qaida, from using the soil of Afghanistan, to threaten the security of the US and its allies. They have also promised to honour all other commitments in the agreement. But implementation of the same will not be easy. Working out the provisions of the agreement between the Afghan government, the Taliban and the warlords will be a very difficult and intricate task.
Unfortunately, Afghan government is hopelessly divided. The rift between President Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has widened. Now both have taken oath as Afghan President, exposing the stark disunity in the government, and making commitments of peace negotiations difficult. Again, the new government formation, following the agreement, will not be an easy affair, and in the new government, the Taliban will try to have a dominant role, one that will be opposed by other constituents.
And this is likely to trigger further conflicts. Many Taliban hardliners are astonished at the agreement and still intend to reimpose the Islamic Caliphate, as before. Enduring peace in Afghanistan will also depend on the cooperation and understanding of other interested powers. In its quest for strategic depth, Pakistan nurtured and sustained the Taliban during the war, and had wanted to reduce Afghanistan to the level of a puppet state.
It has now given up that blue-sky ambition, and has realised that without stabilisation in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s peace and security will be at peril. But definitely, it will oppose any pro-India Afghan government as that may enable India to meddle, particularly in Baluchistan. The present set of Taliban leaders do acknowledge the assistance that it received from Pakistan. If in the new dispensation there are pro-Pakistan Taliban ministers, India will have to face rough weather.
Having invested resources in various projects in Afghanistan, it will have to tread warily. Also, in a worst case scenario, there looms the danger of a Pakistan-Taliban- China alliance, trying to keep the Kashmir cauldron burning, by pushing the Taliban insurgents to the Valley. America needs Pakistan’s help to ensure that the Taliban stands by the peace agreement. International pressure on Pakistan to dismantle safe havens of the terrorists has eased. The Lashkar-e-Taiba and Haqqani network do not find mention in the UN Security Council report of 2020.
Jaishe Mohammad Chief, Masood Azhar, is also missing from Pakistan. The peace deal is ambiguous in many ways. Certain parts of the deal have been withheld, and these are essentially the unpublished commitments of the Taliban to honour the deal. One major problem is the release of Taliban prisoners by the government, after which, negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban are to begin.
President Ghani has turned down the proposal on release of prisoners, and efforts are being made to persuade him to agree to this clause with a view to facilitating talks with the Taliban. According to Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, talks between prison officials of Taliban and the Afghan government have taken place, the first known contact between the two sides since the Taliban signed the agreement. In parallel to terrorist violence, opium cultivation has surged in Afghanistan.
The UN Drug Report 2014 states that Afghanistan produces 85 per cent of the world’s total opium. Eradication programmes of the government target poor farmers, and not rich poppy growers. Many farmers, stripped of their livelihood, have joined the Taliban. Unfortunately, even before the ink is dry on the peace deal, the Taliban has attacked several government establishments in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Post agreement, they have also killed as many as 15 Afghan soldiers in Kunduz province. In support of the Afghan troops, America has launched air strikes targeting Taliban fighters, who were attacking Afghan troops. Spokesman of the American troops in Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Leggett, called it a ‘defensive strike’ to “disrupt the attacks”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the Taliban has made detailed commitments about scaling down the almost relentless violence.
The Commander of American forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, has emphasized that the Taliban will reduce the level of violence further still. This may turn out to be a pious hope. So far there are no signs that American expectations are going to be realized. Implementation of the deal is going to be very problematic, and the road ever so bumpy. “The deal,” as The Economist (March 7-13) states, “will be more difficult to stick than to strike.”
(The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences; former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission; and former Director, National Police Academy)