On Monday, January 28, the US and Taliban agreed to broker a deal that could bring the US’ almost two-decade war in Afghanistan to a halt. Vox reported that American officials and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms for almost a week in Qatar.
The New York Times reports that the two parties “have agreed in principle to the framework of a deal in which the insurgents would guarantee that Afghan territory is never used by terrorists, which could lead to a full pullout of American troops in return for larger concessions from the Taliban”.
What this means is that the deal outlines a possibility of US troops fully withdrawing from Afghanistan in exchange for a check on terrorist activity.
Provisions of the peace deal
Zalmay Khalilzad, chief negotiator for the US, said, “We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement.” So, currently, there are no plans in motion. However, the framework, Khalilzad mentioned, is this: US troops would begin to withdraw on the condition that Taliban takes stringent anti-terrorist stance and stops terrorist activity in Afghanistan, and that it engages in dialogue with the Afghan government over a ceasefire.
The US-Afghanistan-Taliban political triangle
To understand the political relationship between the US and Afghanistan, we need to revisit recent history. Taliban, initially, was a group of insurgents backed by the CIA because it resisted Soviet control in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. But, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, it imposed a “pre-Islamic tribal code and interpretations of sharia”, wherein women were forced to wear a burqa, men had to grow long beards, music and TV was banned, and criminals were punished with amputations and public executions.
Vox explains that after 9/11, the Bush administration accused Taliban of sheltering al-Qaeda leader and attack mastermind Osama bin Laden. American troops invaded Afghanistan to not only neutralise al-Qaeda but also topple Taliban over. However, since then, Taliban has become the strongest insurgency against both the US and Afghan government, with 60,000 militants.
BBC says, “As the idea of peace talks has gained momentum, Taliban wants to maximise its leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table.” Taliban operations have put stress on Afghan security forces and politicians, as well, who are finding it difficult to manage divisive sentiment in the country while countering the group with military options.
As this war has gone on so long, the US, Taliban, and Afghan government are certain that armed violence is not an effective solution. In 2018, BBC said, “A consensus is slowly building to start talks, with all parties saying they want a negotiated settlement.” Hence, Khalilzad stated that the current talks have been “more productive than those in the past” with all three parties attempting to work towards a common goal of a ceasefire and increased dialogue.
Khalilzad clarified the non-violent nature of these talks and said, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.”
India’s policy in Afghanistan
In the past, India has decided against direct intervention in Afghan politics because it has seen the futility of international involvement in the same. It has, over the years, offered some humanitarian and military assistance to the Afghan government and its security forces. India has also been a strong supporter of an “independent” government in Kabul.
Although, India has always stood by a “hands-off approach” that neither provokes risk nor yields gain, with a reduced American presence as extra protection, that policy will likely have to change now.
A need for change
India will need a concrete strategy that takes serious cognisance of the repercussions of Taliban’s militant history, especially if it filters into Indian-administered Kashmir, says The Diplomat. India also needs to take into account Pakistan as a key player in Afghan politics whose interests include using Taliban as a “hedge” against Indian power.
Experts say India must counter Pakistan’s objectives in Kabul and make itself an indispensable and attractive geopolitical partner in arenas like trade and technology, thereby undercutting Pakistan’s influence.
Peace deals such as this are not easy to orchestrate, as both Taliban and the Afghan government want to be dominant actors in the country. As a result, without a strong mediator, Afghanistan faces an uncertain political future, which is a cause for concern for all its neighbours, including India and Pakistan.
Vox says, “Ultimately, few, if any, experts fully trust Taliban to keep its word—leading some to wonder why we’re negotiating at all.”
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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