Nickeled & Dimed

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 On February 29, the United States signed a peace deal with Taliban which aims at pulling out US troops from Afghanistan and America’s longest war. Afghanistan’s constitutional government did not take part in these negotiations and the peace deal is more like a blueprint for America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan rather than ensuring that a power- sharing mechanism is established in the nation. This has been further cemented by the fact that the United States is adhering to its schedule of pulling out the troops despite no effort from Taliban to minimise the violence against Afghan security forces. Moreover, the stability of the constitutional government is already in jeopardy as both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have declared themselves as Presidents and also held their swearing in ceremonies on 9th March separately. Hence, with minimal prospects of an intra-Afghan peace deal the proposed peace plan is an attempt made by President Trump to strengthen his re-election bid ahead of his Presidential campaign. He would most likely highlight his success as President in calling the troops back home.

Taliban on the other hand managed favourable terms out of this deal. With Afghan government not participating in the negotiations the one principal adversary of Taliban was absent from these talks. Moreover, hard targets have been imposed by Taliban upon the US troop reduction as according to the deal the United States will pull its troops out of Afghanistan in next 14 months. The US will also have to reduce its troops in Afghanistan from 12000 to 8600 within 135 days of the signing of the deal. In return the United States has asked the Taliban to cease its attacks on US and coalition troops, not to provide sanctuary to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, ‘reduce violence’ against Afghan security forces and come to the negotiating table with the republican government of Afghanistan.

 While Taliban has stopped attacks against US and coalition troops and has halted the campaign of suicide bombings, the violence against Afghan government troops show no sign of diminishing as pointed out by Mark Esper, the secretary of defence. Moreover, with vague targets being set for Taliban’s reduction of attacks against government troops gives Taliban a license to still carry out attacks against government troops. Hence, it is clear that through this deal President Trump and his peace envoy Zalmay Khalizad have tried to negotiate an acceptable exit from the war.

As far as an intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation is concerned- the prospects right now appear to be quite dim. Firstly, with Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani declaring themselves presidents separately, there is a confusion regarding who holds power in Kabul. Secondly, intra-Afghan dialogue is dependent upon the exchange of 5000 taliban fighters being held prisoners by Afghan security forces against 1000 government troops being held prisoners by Taliban. But this agreement has not been able to reach fruition due to Ashraf Ghani’s refusal to go ahead with it. According to him this was not a promise that the United States could make without consulting the Afghan government and he is not ready to release any prisoners before the start of intra-Afghan negotiations. This stance of President Ghani conveys that the initial confidence building measure between the Taliban and the Afghan government hasn’t taken place which is essential for starting intra-Afghan talks.

Hence, this entire process of negotiating a peace deal and recalling US troops from Afghanistan demonstrates the urgency and the desperation with which the Trump administration has negotiated with the Taliban. The United States chose to finalise the peace process amidst a political crisis in Kabul and not involve Afghan government in the negotiation process. This has been done by the Trump administration in the light of the US Presidential election which is scheduled for later this year. The urgency is further evident from the fact that the United States has started pulling out its troops despite no sign of Taliban and Afghan government coming on the negotiation table and minimising violence towards each other. Hence, if the current trend continues and the United States pulls its troops out of Afghanistan without ensuring an institutional structure for power sharing; the violence in Afghanistan is bound to increase and there will be no peace in Afghanistan after this so-called peace deal.

Samarth Gupta is a third year student of Ashoka University studying Political Science and International Relations.

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