US and Afghan Taliban have signed an agreement for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan on the Taliban’s commitment of not utilizing the Afghan soil against the US and its allies. Conflicting parties have also agreed on the participation of the Taliban in the intra-Afghan dialogue with other stakeholders including Ashraf Ghani government and Afghan parliamentary opposition after an agreed-upon timeline for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. This peace accord is a major breakthrough to end two decades prolonged US military engagement in Afghanistan. It also provides a mechanism for future peace-building in the country in the form of intra-Afghan dialogue with an ambitious timeline.
However, it needs to be understood that “ending war and peace-building in a conflict-ridden country” are two different processes. The US and President Zia ul Haq’s administration were able to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s but they could not develop any future peace-building mechanism for Afghanistan in the post-war period. It resulted in the outbreak of post-Soviet Withdrawal Afghan civil-war and rise of Taliban regime (1996-2001) from its ashes in Afghanistan.
Now, it is possible to build peace in Afghanistan because the US-Taliban agreement is a detailed document which has outlined intra-Afghan dialogue as a mechanism for future peace-building in Afghanistan. This agreement has laid out a process for intra-Afghan dialogue but not a vision for peace in Afghanistan by developing a mechanism for reconstruction and development of post-war Afghan economy and society by focusing on its indigenous capacity building. Any arrangement missing development of indigenous capacity building for the economic viability of the Afghan state cannot be considered as a conclusive piece.
Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies
President Trump’s administration wants to withdraw forces from Afghanistan by leaving peace-building to Afghan nation and its neighbours which can create serious regional security repercussions in the absence of regulatory and enforcement mechanism to implement outcomes of the intra-Afghan dialogue. In any case, Pakistan will be the most affected nation after the Afghans from the outcomes of the intra-Afghan peace-building process. This article will look into the details of this US-Taliban accord and future peace-building prospects in Afghanistan.
Because peace in Pakistan is conditioned with peace in Afghanistan. Therefore, the security situation in Afghanistan has critical implications for the security and stability of Pakistan. Absence of central government with overarching writ over the state and intra-Afghan factional rivalries over the last many decades has created a peculiar strategic culture of the country.
Afghanistan lacks an indigenous economic base to support the economic viability of its state apparatus which increased its dependence on external actors and creates rooms for a power-play of regional actors in the internal politics of Afghanistan. This scenario adds intricacies to peace-building efforts in Afghanistan. Understanding of this strategic environment is important to analyze challenges in the commencement and working of intra-Afghan dialogue as a peace-building exercise in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan peace process is a series of dialogue efforts, seeking a political settlement, are carried out by national, regional and global powers involved in this conflict. Most decisive and conclusive among these is US-Taliban Doha dialogue series which spanned over more than a year. It has culminated in the signing of a landmark peace agreement on 29 February, between US and Afghan Taliban, for future peace-building in Afghanistan. Conflict parties, mainly Taliban and US, have agreed on four important points which include:
I). Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.
II). Guarantees, enforcement mechanism and the announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
III). On March 10, 2020, the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides.
IV). The participants of Intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a ceasefire.
The ink on the US-Taliban "Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" is barely dry & already it is coming apart as the Taliban resume military operations. Meanwhile, the govt (which is not a party to the deal) is balking at releasing 5K prisoners. A less than auspicious start— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) March 2, 2020
This is an agreed-upon workable formula for future peace-building in Afghanistan. Earlier, the US and Taliban agreed on a violence reduction mechanism as a confidence-building measure for the signing peace accord. This agreed-upon violence reduction understanding has served as a starting point for future peace-building efforts in Afghanistan. Successful implementation of US-Taliban agreement will be a positive development for Pakistan and the region because it will pave the path to end the trillion-dollar war economy and protracted conflict in Afghanistan.
However, internal political tussle among different Afghan factions is the main impediment in the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue. The US needs to take a lead role in settling tensions among different rival factions for long term peace in Afghanistan. Incumbent Kabul regime is dependent on the US for financial assistance. Regional influencers, having leverage over the Taliban, will have to play their role in facilitating the second phase of this peace process.
Recent violent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, after signing of agreement from US and Taliban, have raised shadows of concern on the implementation of this agreement. It has redrawn the attention of Afghan nation by putting a peace agreement on the limbo between fear and hope about its implementation.
Although, both sides have expressed their resolve to continue peace-building efforts during ‘good talk’ between President Trump and Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar. This shows US seriousness in their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. Therefore, they can leave Afghanistan without any concrete political settlement after a stipulated time period as agreed in the agreement. Therefore, their presence in Afghanistan for the remaining time period gave an opportunity to Afghan leadership to settle this matter through intra-Afghan dialogue.
US President Donald Trump has concluded this peace accord with Taliban to fulfil his election manifesto promise of forces withdrawal from Afghanistan after coming in power and ending US longest war which is a financial burden on its economy
Since 9/11, the Taliban and US are two most potent actors remained involved in the armed struggle in Afghanistan. This agreement shows the seriousness of both sides to conclude this conflict on mutually agreed workable formula to give an impression of a win-win situation about future peace-building in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban have demanded the release of their 5,000 warriors before the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue which is resisted by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Both sides have their rationale for reaching this peace accord.
US President Donald Trump has concluded this peace accord with Taliban to fulfil his election manifesto promise of forces withdrawal from Afghanistan after coming in power and ending US longest war which is a financial burden on its economy. Taliban have signed this agreement after US guarantee of withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan which they consider as their victory in a war of resistance to foreign occupation. However, the real challenge for the Taliban will be how they reconcile with Afghan society which has greatly transformed during the last two decades.
Although, the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue after developing a minimum consensus agenda for dialogue would be a daunting task for rival Afghan factions. Afghans have suffered huge losses and casualties in the intra-Afghan wars but they have not agreed on any common workable rules-based order in their society. Afghan low Jirga, having representation of all vital domestic actors, can be formulated and empowered to formulate a future strategy for peace in Afghanistan.
Read more: Afghanistan: Is peace really coming?
The US, China and Russia all have a convergence of perspective over the Afghan peace process despite stark differences at the global political level. Pakistan has also played a constructive role in facilitating the US-Taliban peace process. Iran has also not tried to sabotage this peace process despite animosity with the US. But, India is the main spoiler of ongoing peace efforts in Afghanistan because the status quo situation suits India’s Afghanistan policy.
India has invested in Afghanistan to use the Kabul regime as a proxy against Pakistan. Afghan leadership needs to take ownership of the political process in Afghanistan in order to avoid spoilers who want to derail it. Now, they need to convince the neighbouring countries and global powers involved in this conflict that they (Afghans) will lead the intra-Afghan dialogue process. Pakistan needs to support the intra-Afghan peace process in the next phase as a since facilitator but does not intervene because of intricacies attached to this process.
The US has increased the significance of the Afghan Taliban as compared to other Afghan factions by signing a peace accord with them. Later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also announced to release Taliban prisoners despite his early opposition to it. He has announced this initiative as a goodwill gesture for intra-Afghan dialogue on the US pressure.
The real challenge for Afghan leadership is to navigate through intra-Afghan dialogue to arrive at a rules bases social order in the conflict-ridden country to formulate future power-sharing and transfer of power mechanism for Afghanistan.
Doha dialogue series was the first concrete step toward peace-building in Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan in the form of repatriation of millions of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, end the proxy use of Afghan soil against Pakistan while promoting bilateral trade between both neighbours.
We need to understand that Afghan conflict is too complex to be resolved simply through a smooth dialogue process but the success of this accord can play a decisive role in strengthening future peace-building mechanism in Afghanistan if it is fully implemented by both sides with the commitment and guarantees as given in the agreement.
Ayaz Khokhar holds M Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is an independent political analyst. His areas of interest are Trends in Geopolitics and Politics of South Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.