By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah
Published: March 11, 2020
The writer is a former secretary to the Home and Tribal Affairs Department and a retired IG. He holds a PhD in Political Science. He currently heads a think tank, Good Governance Forum, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The much-hyped interim peace accord has finally been signed between the United States and the Afghan Taliban amidst hope, despair, anguish, and uncertainty. For the Taliban and its supporters, it is a sign of victory and for many believing in pluralism and rationality, this appears to be a document of surrender and full retreat which will again push the Afghan society towards chaos and ultimate totalitarianism.
The landmark agreement aims at the withdrawal of all US and allied force troops within 14 months’ time, enabling President Trump to fulfil his election promise to pull out the US from “endless wars”. The title of the signed deal is “An Agreement between Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the United States of America”. But interestingly, playing the semantics game, the deal repeatedly mentions “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban”. As a qualifying proviso, the deal makes the withdrawal of US forces contingent upon intra-Afghan negotiations which were to be held on March 10, 2020. It also accords the highest priority to a permanent ceasefire with an avowed objective to provide a conducive environment for negotiations with the Afghan government and all other factions of the society, making it obligatory for the Taliban to meet with them. This will provide an opportunity to the participants of the intra-Afghan negotiations to deliberate upon modalities and mechanisms to thrash out an agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.
Under the Doha agreement, the US would reduce its forces down to 8,600 from 12,000 in the next three to four months while the remaining US forces would withdraw in 14 months’ time.
Although world leaders have welcomed the deal and hoped for a better tomorrow, the journey towards peace and democracy appears to be quite arduous. I have already expressed in my earlier writings that the peace deal announcement was a welcome move but there were still ifs and buts as many core questions remained unanswered.
Dissenting voices have not only been heard in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the region, but also in the US, terming the move as unwise. In this context, Time magazine has termed it as President Trump’s disgraceful peace deal with the Taliban and called it a full retreat. In other words, this is a document of surrender, appeasement and encourages totalitarianism. The analysis also contended that it was meaningless to argue that the fate of Afghanistan was not relevant to its security. Hopes for peace dwindle when the contracting party is not keen on ending the insurgency and when the proposed deal weakens allies and strengthens the enemies. The commitment of the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners accused of serious crimes such as murder will give a great boost to the Taliban prestige. Even worse, the US further agreed to a goal of “releasing all remaining prisoners over the course of the subsequent three months”. The deal also provides for removing sanctions that were imposed on the members of the Taliban, including travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo. Resultantly, the whole balance of power in Afghanistan will be disturbed by the agreement. Without any meaningful concession from the Taliban’s side, the agreement is seen as worse than a simple withdrawal by many US analysts.
In my writings, I have expressed the apprehension that just one odd incident would be enough to jeopardise the entire peace process. The fragility of the peace deal was exposed when the US defense department announced its first airstrike against the Taliban forces within days of the inking of the agreement amidst acrimonious disagreements between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban went back on their commitment to cease hostilities and to hold the intra-Afghan dialogue unless the prisoners were released. This has further stalled the peace process as the Ashraf Ghani-led government is not ready to simply hand over thousands of reinforcements back to its deadly enemy. Even the arch-rival of Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, has cast doubts on the deal.
Reacting sharply, a section of the opinion published in Time suggested that a war-weary American public should resist the Trump administration’s retreat. “It should not tolerate any agreement that reinforces and strengthens the Taliban. There are things that are worse than ‘endless war’, and if we doubt that truth, there is a memorial in downtown Manhattan that should remind us that mortal threats can emerge even from the farthest reaches of the earth.”
The apprehensions of the various quarters are not unfounded given the past track record of the Taliban on both sides of the border. In the emerging scenario, the unclear role of the Taliban in the future political set-up and their adherence to the democratic values based on pluralism and the Afghan Constitution seem difficult.
Nothing can be said with certainty; but if history is our guide, the policy of appeasement never worked in the past and will not work now. Pakistan’s own experience with the Taliban had never been very encouraging. The Taliban had inked a number of agreements but had used them as a tactic to preserve their human and other resources. They used the truces to gain time and space to further consolidate their positions with a clear intention to impose their own brand of Sharia by establishing the Islamic Emirate. Every time they violated the agreement, never did they lay down their arms nor did they end violence. Only the kinetic energy of the state rolled them back. Afghanistan is no different. The Afghan Taliban has the same vision, mindset, goals and strategy. They just change tactics in order to achieve their strategic goals. The consequences of the whole agreement have to be seen from that perspective. The road to peace in Afghanistan lies in pluralism and a policy of give and take. Any other path may have a negative impact from the political, economic and social perspectives for the whole region.