Sarthak Sharma, a 3rd year Law student from Army Institute of Law, Mohali throws light upon the US-Taliban Agreement, the history that eventuated the aforementioned Agreement and the possibility of coveted peace that the agreement withholds.
The Taliban has signed a deal with the United States of America, possibly paving the way for coveted peace. To understand the rudiments of this agreement, I’ll be walking through the pages of history in brevity to understand the relationship and involvement of the USA, the Taliban, and Afghanistan and how is it that this group became one of the most influential political actors in the war-torn country.
- Cold War
In 1979, the Communist Soviet Union forces invaded Afghanistan’s territory to support Afghanistan’s communist party, which had acceded to power, in a 1978 coup. The regime vigorously suppressed opposition, which saw the rise of anti-government and insurgent groups. Soon, the country was in open rebellion, and this led to the interference from international players. The Soviets and the Afghan Communist Party were mainly opposed by a group called the ‘Mujahideen,’ who were essentially a guerrilla-type militants led by the Islamist Afghan. The Mujahideen were given a large amount of financial and military aid in the form of troops, equipment, and training from the USA, mainly Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan in the mid-1980s. After rigorous battles between both the groups, the latter were eventually successful in driving the Soviets out in 1989 and end the communist era in Afghanistan and subsequently initiated the birth of a new regime in Afghanistan.
- Rise of the Taliban
After the exit of International players, we saw a split in the Mujahideen in terms of who should get to rule Afghanistan during the 1992 civil war, as the only common ground the Mujahideen had was to expel the foreign forces and nothing further. The Taliban were, predominantly, fundamentalist ethnic Pashtun students from traditional Islamic schools, and were one such Mujahideen group. The group was formed in the early 1990s and would rule over Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
The movement gained momentum when they promised to attain stability and the rule of law, and find a state under Islamic Principles. Taliban seized the center of Kandahar province on Oct. 3, 1994. By September 1996, they managed to seize the capital, Kabul, from President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was viewed as anti-Pashtun and corrupt. It was that year the Taliban declared Afghanistan an Islamic emirates.
Osama Bin Laden was part of a group known as ‘Afghan Arabs’ which were volunteers from Arab to wage jihad against atheist communists during the Soviet era. Fighting originally side by side with the Americans, Bin Laden would go on to find the terrorist group, ‘Al-Qaeda,’ which organized and conducted the deadly and unforgettable 9/11 attacks on the twin towers and the pentagon. This attack shook the entire world, and the US vowed to take revenge. President, George W Bush, released a statement, demanding the Taliban turn over Al Qaeda and Bin Laden or be crushed by the hands of the US as they were giving them refuge. Upon refusal, the USA retaliated by invading Afghanistan.
The USA contacted The Northern Alliance, a group of former Mujahideen, which had not sided with the Taliban and had the support of the US even during the Soviet era war. A CIA squad met them in Afghanistan and got their support through 3 Million Dollars in cash, equipment, and training. With a combination of aerial bombing and the US Coalition, the war against the Taliban was over in just two years.
- The USA is Here to Stay
Even after the war got over, the USA maintained its presence. The main reason being that the primary objective of the USA’s invasion, i.e., capturing Bin Laden, was a failure, as most of the Al Qaeda leaders, along with Bin Laden, were found to be missing once the battle was over. The assumption was that they had fled to Pakistan. The USA, therefore, continued its operations there to smoke him out.
The USA further had to stay back to facilitate and support the newly formed US-backed Hamid Karzai’s government. The main reason the USA wanted to secure their position in Afghanistan, was because of the strategic advantage. Due to the mitigated disaster, albeit a victory of Project Anaconda where forces had come into South Afghanistan from Pakistan, the US realized that the threat is not over. Being stationed in Afghanistan provided the USA with the opportunity of more direct interventions in the Middle East. This strategic positioning helped them in the 2003 Iraq war.
- Taliban Resurgence
As mentioned above, the main reason for the US’s continued stay in Afghanistan was the strategic advantage; an advantage they thoroughly employed; employment that cost them dearly. With the advent of the 2003 Iraq war, there was a shift of focus from the activities in Afghanistan, and US resources were redirected to Iraq instead. This paved the way for the Taliban’s reentry into the power dynamics of Afghanistan. Taliban soon gained local legitimacy once again, with an increased number of attacks and suicide bombings, and took control over 18 districts, and the US-backed government was constrained to Kabul.
- The US-Taliban Agreement: A Road to Nowhere
Fast forward to today. The deal has been signed and agreed upon by both parties. The highlights of the deal are-
- Removal of US forces from 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days, followed by a complete removal if the Taliban follows through on its commitments.
- Prisoner swap of 5000 Taliban for 1000 Afghan forces.
- Afghanistan won’t become a haven for terrorists to launch terror attacks on the US and its allies.
- Initiation of peace talks with the locals.
- A three-way ceasefire (one which has been gravely violated since the agreement).
Going over the contents of the deal, though, we find a lot of underlying problems that are difficult to fix given the established context.
- The US Perspective
The US has spent three President Terms in Afghanistan, and all three have had different approaches to dealing with the problem. This has caused a lot of discrepancies as to what the end goal of the US is. Now trust is being laid on the Trump Administration out of all; A man who is the self-appointed harbinger of peace. There are beliefs that the USA has bitten off more than they can chew and now are simply looking for an exit. They realize that this might be a war they can’t win and is costing them too many dollars and lives. The US invaded Afghanistan to capture Bin Landen. Although he was in Pakistan and not Afghanistan, they managed to execute him and haven’t been that successful against the Taliban. So the question remains, why is the US leaving now?
- The Taliban Perspective
The main reason for the Taliban’s existence was to eliminate all foreign forces present in Afghanistan, and it seems like they are getting exactly what they wanted from this deal and have managed to make the US sacrifice and oblige to a lot more than they have had to. The Taliban simply want the US to leave and therefore are also arguing with the US over the deal demanding immediate and absolute removal of forces instead of it being a gradual measure. Whilst talking of peace, it’ll be peace on whose terms? Once the US leaves what’s to stop the Taliban from going back to their old ways. Can you trust a terrorist organization this much? The Taliban want a haven to live their way of life, torment others, carry out their narcotic activities, and suppress women without interference. Further, the deal only talks about not carrying out terrorist acts against the US and its allies, so they are still free to propagate violence otherwise.
- The Afghan Perspective
This situation is essentially a win-win-lose. The US got Bin Laden, the Taliban is getting rid of the Americans, and the locals are the ones who are going to be suffering getting caught in the middle of all this. A major shortcoming of this deal committed by the US is that they are backing out without ensuring security, which shows that it was never their agenda in the first place. The Afghan people need to be incorporated into the mainstream, and that will happen by doing the same with the Taliban. Yet, there is no plan for their disarmament and reintegration into society. The negotiation being closed doors was another setback. The real challenge is the intra-Afghan talks; however, there is a massive lack of faith on both sides. The Taliban looks at the government as puppets of the US, and the Afghan government has already refused the point of a prisoner swap. Forget about the success of such talks, but rather their initiation itself seems far-fetched. Lastly, the elephant in the room is the problem of power-sharing. In Afghanistan today, there is a power vacuum between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, claiming the seat of power, adding the Taliban into this arrangement, and having a real mess.
Sarthak Sharma is a 3rd year Law student from Army Institute of Law, Mohali
IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.