US-Taliban peace deal shows American desperation to quit Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban's senior commander signing the US-Taliban peace agreement at Doha.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban's senior commander signing the US-Taliban peace agreement at Doha.

Every nation works in the best interests of its people and so there’s nothing wrong with Washington making an agreement with the Taliban to end the nearly two-decade old conflict in Afghanistan in order to get its soldiers back home. But who would have ever thought that a country that talks so big about its unconditional commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism worldwide, would abandon this stated principle so shamefully for exiting Afghanistan? Yet, what has happened is right there in front of us to see and current developments don’t inspire much confidence that this so-called ‘peace deal’ will work out as is evident from the renewed attacks by Taliban within just two days of the accord being signed.

But then, what’s happening is on the expected lines because in its tearing hurry to get out of Afghanistan, Washington has made two cardinal mistakes. The first one is that even though US President Donald Trump correctly identified Pakistan as being the patron of Taliban (remember his 2018 tweet “They (Pakistan Government and Army) give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan?” and yet Washington’s efforts to discipline Islamabad weren’t either sustained or determined. Whereas the US did impose certain restrictions on financial aid to Islamabad for “not doing enough” in its war against terror, it seems that the US State Department was over awed by Pakistan Foreign Minister’s Khawaja Asif’s open threat that Washington couldn’t win its war on terrorism “by excluding or confronting Pakistan.”

Trump’s second blunder was making his sheer desperation to exit Afghanistan so evident that it emboldened the Pakistan Army not only to continue patronising Taliban but also discreetly pushing it to dictate ridiculous terms and preconditions. Taliban’s proclivity for violence is well known and its car bombing in Kabul that killed a US serviceman in September last year forcing Trump to call-off the peace deal that was in its final stages is ample proof of this. Yet, rather insisting upon that the Taliban should display its seriousness by ensuring a reasonable period of peace as a prelude to signing the accord for American troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington surprisingly settled for merely a “reduction in violence” clause, and that too for just one week. But the most astonishing thing is that this weird one-week long “reduction in violence” condition wasn’t been set by Washington but thrust upon it by the Taliban.

This leaves one in no doubt as to who’s calling the shots during the US-Taliban negotiations and it’s because of this that the proposed peace deal appears to be a non-starter. Already, the Taliban has put an unreasonable precondition that 5,000 of its captured fighters should be freed before negotiations can proceed any further and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has already warned that, “If our 5,000 prisoners – 100 or 200 more or less does not matter – do not get released there will be no intra-Afghan talks.” It’s quite likely that in its desperation to exit Afghanistan, Washington may oblige to release these prisoners; but doing so will be a humungous blunder because once its captured fighters are released, the Taliban will have no reason to honour an agreement that questions its supremacy.

Even if the accord works out and gives an honourable closure to the US-led military operation in Afghanistan (officially christened “Operation Enduring Freedom”), the one thing certain is that peace will continue to elude Afghanistan! The Taliban doesn’t recognise the democratically elected Government of Afghanistan (and since Rawalpindi too isn’t quite happy with it), a bloody power struggle between Afghan forces and the Taliban after US troop withdrawal is inevitable. The Taliban has already made this clear by launching 43 attacks on Afghan security check-posts on Tuesday and though these attacks are obviously meant to pressurise the Ashraf Ghani government into releasing Taliban fighters from Kabul’s custody, it also serves as a message that the Taliban will use guns to resolve its differences with the Afghanistan government, which it refers to as “the Kabul puppet administration.”  

Whereas the US has retaliated to the Helmand attacks with an airstrike against the Taliban, but by taking pains to clarify that this was a “defensive” strike, the Americans have exhibited an apologetic stance. But what’s most disturbing is that instead of issuing a strong and unambiguous warning of appropriate retribution in case such attacks don’t cease, the US military spokesperson Col. Sonny Leggett came up with a politically sounding tweet saying, “We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments.” Whereas the US military may not be wanting to jeopardise the ongoing talks by adopting a belligerent approach, but by saying things that convey an impression of being willing to accept any compromise for saving the accord will only embolden the Taliban to violate the reached agreement.

Lastly, by demanding that the Taliban should take necessary measures to “prevent any group or individual, including Al Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies,” the Americans may give an impression of being very concerned about the wellbeing of their allies. But by conveniently missing out the seeking of a similar safeguard in terms of Taliban not threatening the security of the Afghan government, Washington is literally ushering in an all-out civil war that would obviously culminate in the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and replay of the dark 1996-2001 period that saw unspeakable atrocities being committed on innocent men and women.

Postscript- It was America’s Faustian deal with Pakistan in the 1980s that not only saw the rise of Taliban but also created a fertile breeding ground for the spawning of religious fundamentalism and radical Islam. Four decades down the line, we are once again witnessing Washington making another Faustian compromise that will accord official recognition to the Taliban terrorist group. Strange as it may sound, but the reality is that while America wants the world to shun Tehran for allegedly patronising terrorist activities, but by turning a blind eye to Pakistan which (by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s own admission) has been providing sanctuary to many internationally proscribed terrorist groups, Washington has fared no better!

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