Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

The US-backed Peace Process in Afghanistan

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The US-backed Peace Process in Afghanistan

US peace process in Afghanistan includes the efforts directed towards ending the 19 years of the US war in Afghanistan, establishing peace with Taliban and initiating intra-Afghan peace talks. So far, US has only been able to strike a deal with Taliban, while the future of intra-Afghan peace talks and the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan to end the war are still uncertain.
The US peace deal with Taliban was signed in February 2020 after diplomatic efforts that extended for more than a year. The main features of the deal included: the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan within 14 months; the guarantee from Taliban that they will make efforts not to let Afghan soil used against the US; the commitment by Taliban to start intra-Afghan talks; and permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan. However, there are some important details that should be discussed to understand the nature of the agreement.
As per the agreement, the US forces should withdraw completely from Afghanistan within 14 months, but the withdrawal should be a phased-withdrawal. The agreement says that in the first phase, the US forces should reduce its forces to 8,600 within 135 days by withdrawing forces from five military bases (which has already taken place). In the second phase, extending to about 9.5 months, US should withdraw its remaining forces from all the bases in the country. 
Taliban’s guarantee not to let Afghanistan’s soil used against the US also includes assurance against Al-Qaeda. The agreement also says that Taliban will not fund any terrorist organizations that may have the intention to attack the US, neither they will provide sanctuary to such organizations or groups.
As far as intra-Afghan talks is concerned, the agreement says that as a precondition to talks, Afghan government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and the Taliban will reciprocate by releasing up-to 1,000 prisoners before March 10, 2020 (the prisoners release process was completed but after the deadline). While all other prisoners on both sides will be released within three months’ time. The released prisoners will also adhere to the other points in the agreement. And, starting from March 10, 2020, the intra-Afghan talks will start (the talks only started in September 2020).
Regarding ceasefire, the agreement says that the terms of a permanent ceasefire will be decided in intra-Afghan talks. Both the sides in such dialogues will decide the date and other details – commitments and mechanisms – for a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire. Although the intra-Afghan talks started in September, little progress has been made as Taliban and the Afghan ‘republican representatives’ have not even finalized the basic framework of the talks. Nevertheless, reaching to the present scenario has been a Herculean task. 
The US-Taliban agreement, unfortunately, was not followed in its true spirit, which as a result hindered the development leading to intra-Afghan talks. As per the agreement, the prisoners had to be released by both sides before March 10, 2020; however, most of the promised number of prisoners were only released till September 2020. Taliban and Ghani administration blamed each other for the delay.
Initially, the process of prisoners’ release was hindered by the disagreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah, originating from the controversies over the result of presidential elections. The disagreement was so severe that both of them took oath as the president of the country simultaneously. However, they made a political agreement in May 2020. As per the agreement, High Council for National Reconciliation was formed that is being led by Abdullah Abdullah and his team, and it is leading the intra-Afghan peace talks.
Currently, the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar is facing a stalemate. Taliban reportedly demanded that Hanafi School of Jurisprudence should form the basis of any sort of discussion on discrepancies that may arise during the talks. While the ‘republic team’ is not ready to accept this demand as it has to follow the constitution of the country that clearly provides flexibility of the law to the Shiite in Afghanistan that form around 20% of the whole population. This demand by Taliban does not help in setting an encouraging precedence to talks as it violates the multi-ethnic and diverse nature of Afghan society.
Moreover, another approach adopted by the Taliban delegation in Doha talks is ‘to remain ambiguous’. Though they have highlighted that they would want a Shariah Law and Islamic Justice to decide the future form of government in Afghanistan, they have never come up with a clear stance on the nature of the setup that they demand. This has made the process stagnant and tiresome, resulting in the reluctance of the opposing party to pursue the talks with any enthusiasm. At the same time, Taliban have continued their fighting in Afghanistan with no clear message about the cease-fire. The current rise in violence in Kunduz and Helmand is a clear example of Taliban tactic of pressing the other party for a better negotiating position. The tactic, however, has brought Taliban in confrontation with the US forces who have come to the support of Afghan security forces, thus endangering the US-Taliban deal.
Thus, the US supported peace process in Afghanistan remains undecided on the eve of Election Day in the United States. Taliban do not seem in hurry as well; therefore, there are chances that the Afghan people will suffer as a result of ambiguity and insecurity. Moreover, the groups like Daesh has been taking advantage of this uncertain situation and increasing their attacks. A couple of weeks ago, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on an educational institute in Barchi – Hazara-dominated locality in western Kabul, which resulted in the death of 25 students, and also for the attack on Kabul University that resulted in the death of 20 innocent students and injury to many others. So, it is vital that the US and the Afghan ‘republic team’ must pressurize Taliban to show flexibility in their approach and clarity in their demands so that the peace process must not be left ambiguous; otherwise, it will keep on victimizing the poor people in Afghanistan, particularly, the vulnerable strata of the society.

Sajjad Aasim is a PhD Scholar in International Relations. He can be reached at sajjad.aasim@hotmail.com

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