We have learned from the past that without a complete political settlement among Afghan stakeholders and a division of power through free and fair elections accepted by all, there remains a possibility of another chaos in the shape of fighting among its factions; foreign or local.
This time, as previously unthinkable, the two major parties in Afghanistan namely the U.S and the Taliban have reached an agreement, that itself a significant breakthrough, in which both agree to a number of guarantees.
The agreement so far
Firstly, the guarantee and enforcement of mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the U.S and its allies.
Secondly, there should be a guaranteed enforcement mechanism and the announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. The Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiation with all Afghan stakeholders
Lastly, a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.
As the country is not completely controlled by any faction so the obligations of this agreement apply under the control of their respective areas until there is a post-settlement Afghan government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.
The U.S committed to withdrawing supporting Services Personnel within 14 months from Feb 2019. The U.S will also seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new government and will not intervene in its internal affairs.
International support in exchange for continued peace talks
In the last quarter of 2020, a conference for Afghanistan that took place in Geneva, co-hosted by the UN and Finland, and attended mostly virtually by 100 countries and international organizations, saw the US, EU, and other donors commit around $3 billion for Afghanistan next year and $12bn over the next four years.
What was significant was that pledges were conditioned on tangible progress in peace talks and a ceasefire. The EU also made assistance contingent on the preservation of human rights gains.
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A top US official announced that while it was pledging $600 million for 2021, only half would come now “with the remaining available as progress in the peace process is reviewed”. The State Department was more direct: “The choices made in peace negotiations will affect the size and scope of future international support and assistance.”
Now the Intra-Afghan dialogues are underway there are some irreconcilable differences between the two sides; whether a country should be a theocracy or Republic, interpretation of Shariah in the Constitution, the status of women, and the status of other ethnic and religious minorities especially Shiites
Contemplating the future
When trying to anticipate the future of Afghanistan there remain some important questions to ask: will all NATO troops be withdrawn in May 2021? If troops get withdrawn will the CIA also leave Afghanistan? What about so-called Al-Qaeda and ISIS?
Barnett Rubin, a former State Department official who is now the director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Project at New York University, argues that the United States would benefit from having a strategic vision for the region that was bigger than “no Al Qaeda.”
“Stop looking at Afghanistan as either ‘war on terror’ or nothing and broaden the aperture to see that it is a country in a region with China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan — four nuclear powers,” he said.
But the fact of the matter is, after almost two decades, the U.S and the Afghan government have failed Afghanistan in many aspects like nation-building, democratic reforms, secure effective territorial control of the country for governance purposes, and advance the rule of law. The Taliban has shown its resilience.
The withdrawal deadline should be extended
The total population of Afghanistan is around 39 million living in 433 districts. The Afghan government controls 133 districts, 15.16 million population, and 34% of the land.
Taliban controls 75 districts, 4.55 Million population, and 19% of the land. One district is unconfirmed and, surprisingly, the Islamic State is confirmed to be present in five districts of the province Kunar, Afghanistan near Quetta, Pakistan.
The number of contested districts is overwhelming 189 with 47% of the land and a 13.25 Million population, despite many displacements of citizens to other districts. A recent survey conducted by a news agency claims that the Taliban have control of 52% of the territory of the country.
In the grand scheme of things, the question of Afghanistan for the U.S is about face-saving, building its broken image, and asserting to the world that the U.S intrudes the countries to install peaceful and democratic governments to ensure the security of the U.S and its allies.
Furthermore, the U.S has to prioritize taxpayers’ money, its efforts, and powers to other theatres, which are more important and strategic, like the South China Sea and the Arctic Ocean, etc.
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Politically speaking, given the domestic polarisation I doubt that the U.S is willing to fight the Taliban in case of no political settlement before May 2021 then, in this case, the Taliban will have the clout to emerge as the most powerful stakeholder in the country.
2021 could be a make or break year for Afghanistan. The path forward should be an extension of the deadline of all foreign forces beyond May 2021 until a complete political settlement and the Taliban should endorse this extension to give peace a chance so that history should not repeat this time and the world would have a democratic Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from, infamously, known as a graveyard of the empire.
Shehz Zulkifal has studied Business, Economics, Banking, and Finance in his last degree. He has worked in the Asset Management Company as an Investment Associate. He has also completed an internship at the Center for Global and Strategic Studies, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.