After years of war, the peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan seemed to be a most welcome development in the relationship between both the United States and Afghanistan, and the Taliban. However, changes in the relationship between the two countries have not exactly reflected the expected outcomes as espoused within the agreement. Currently, progress in the agreement to withdraw U.S troops in exchange for the Taliban’s commitment to never allow Afghanistan to be used by the Al Qaeda as a base, is behind the scheduled timelines, and there are on-going questions including on the nature of obstacles to progress.
Stakeholders and their Roles
From 2009, significant efforts have been made towards ensuring sustaining peace between the U.S and the Taliban movement in Afghan. The efforts have been deliberate, mostly through peace talks between various stakeholders in the war that has spanned nearly two decades. Presently, there are on-going efforts towards attaining peace between the two parties. In this process, various stakeholders have been involved. The main stakeholders include the U.S., Afghanistan and the Taliban. The U.S is critical to the peace process as it have been one of the main players with an interest in the peace talks (Idrees, Rehman and Nazeer 21). The U.S has particularly shown strong commitment to attaining peace with the Taliban, through the deliberate action of removing the U.S military forces from Afghanistan. Afghanistan also plays a crucial role in the peace talks as it is the host country for peace talks and for Taliban, and is responsible for developing a peaceful environment characterized by a stable government in line with the regional interests.
Besides the U.S and Afghanistan, the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, which are mostly affected by the war between the U.S and the Taliban, are also key players in the peace talks. Particularly, countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan, have come to the realization that the roles they play have to be increasingly active as they can no longer depend entirely on the international community (Idrees et al. 21). The countries have the responsibility of taking ownership of the region, overcoming their differences with Afghanistan in order to create an environment for peace, not only between the U.S and the Taliban but also among countries in the region. They have the opportunity to develop positive relations among themselves in order to create a shared vision for peace in the region, and particularly for Afghanistan. These countries have to be intentional in their efforts towards sustained peace in the region. Having been a former host for the Taliban, Pakistan has the specific responsibility of creating amity and political stability in order to facilitate the progress of the peace process (Idrees et al. 23-25). Pakistan has the power and the responsibility of influencing the Taliban and to improve their responsiveness both to the peace talks and to the actual action plans laid down as part of the peace talks. This can be achieved on account of the relationship that has existed between Pakistan and the Taliban as well as the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan as neighbours.
The Peace Deal: Outcomes
The peace deal with have attain significant progress. The two involved parties, namely the U.S and the Taliban, both recognize the progress that has been realized, particularly in the last round of peace discussions. All along, Afghanistan has been excluded from the peace talks, and the Taliban has been adamant to having discussions with Afghanistan before discussions with the U.S. The central issues in the peace talks have included the scheduling of a reasonable timeline for the withdrawal of U.S troupes from Afghanistan and the role of the Taliban in preventing international terrorists such as Al Qaeda from operating on Afghan soil. As at the end of 2019, agreement on both issues had been reportedly close (Walsh par. 3). The two parties however had different stances on progress, and certain factors have also come into play in the process of negotiations. The peace process thus seems to be a difficult journey that will require multiple stages of consultations.
The withdrawal of the U.S forces from Afghanistan as part of the agreement was aimed at reducing the size of the U.S force in Afghanistan from 13,000 people to 8,600 within a span of 135 days (Walsh par. 3). This was to be accompanied by a proportionate decrease in the levels of the allied force. The complete withdrawal of all forces would have occurred within 14 months. Additionally, the U.S committed to working towards prisoner exchange between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban as well as ending the sanctions that were previously placed on Taliban members by August 2020. On the other hand, the Taliban made additional commitments to prevent Taliban members as well as members of other terror groups such as Al Qaeda to continue threatening the U.S from Afghan soil (Walsh par. 4). They were also to prevent the recruitment, training or fundraising for the activities of such terror groups. The final agreements on these additional aspects were made following a week of ceasefire.
The plans to withdraw the U.S forces from Afghanistan were underway as at March 2020. Alongside progress in the withdrawal activity, the intra-Afghan negotiations were to be started by the Taliban in March 2020 (Walsh par. 4). However, they are yet to be scheduled or held, although there has been some progress towards initiating those talks. Various challenges have prevented the talks from progressing as planned. Overcoming these challenges will require continuous talks, formation of strategies towards addressing various difficult issues including women rights, the role of the Taliban in the Afghan politics and the need for long-term ceasefire. Each of these issues is of fundamental concern as they constitute the points of divergence between the Taliban and Afghanistan. Failure in the intra-Afghan discourses as a result of any of these issues would prolong or even make the achievement of Taliban’s side of the peace deal impossible.
The Role of the International Community
The international community also holds an important position in the Taliban peace deals. Addressing the issues between the U.S and the Taliban requires the input of many international stakeholders, most of whom are affected by the strains in the relationship between Afghanistan and the U.S. The most fundamental international players in this issue include China and Russia. China has particularly been considered an essential player because of her mediating role in convincing Pakistan to initiate discussions with the Taliban in order to facilitate the intra-Afghan talks (Idrees et al. 27). Russia has similarly been affected by the strained relationship, and is increasingly recognizing her role towards ensuring sustainable peace agreements. According to Idrees et al., Russia is a regional power and one of the probable key players in any peace deal that would be agreed on by the parties in the U.S. – Taliban peace deals (28). In collaboration with international organizations such as the UN and the QCG, it is possible for Russia to promote the peace initiative through support to the Afghan government. So far, the peace initiatives by the QCG have made significant impact due to the dual policy of the U.S towards combating insurgents and also towards the peace process (Schirch et al. 10). Such outcomes encourage the different countries to continue supporting the peace deal, and also make the outcomes of such agreements clear enough for the international community to be engaged in.
Potential Issues and Uncertainties
So far, progress realized on the U.S – Taliban peace talks have been largely one-sided. The actions of the Taliban have been limited, particularly towards initiating the intra-Afghan talks that are critical towards attaining the Taliban’s end of the peace deal. One of the issues that have posed a challenge to this end is the continued violence by Taliban. Continued violence by the Taliban has made it difficult for the Afghan government to trust the Taliban’s propositions for intra-Afghan talk, which have continued to stall progress in this area (Sheikh and Greenwood 6). The first step towards initiating potentially successful intra-Afghan talks would be for the Taliban to agree on a long-term ceasefire, which is the other point of divergence in the peace discussions.
The disputes currently hampering the progress of the peace process have compounded the challenges in the resolution of various issues that affect the intra-Afghan talks. For instance, Sheikh and Greenwood report that political misunderstandings have escalated after the October 2019 presidential election (5). Similarly, Welna and Dwyer report that one of the main concerns for the Taliban in the progress towards peace is the role that it would be playing in Afghan politics (par. 6). Amidst the dispute surrounding the last elections, it becomes even more difficult for trust to be developed around the political systems in Afghanistan, a factor that results in challenges to the internal discussions on peace prospects.
Other challenges include a dispute concerning the exchange of prisoners, divergence in women rights between the Taliban and Afghanistan (Ferguson par. 4-5 ), and the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which have slowed down progress and made it impossible to realize the timelines set in the peace agreement (Welna and Dwyer par. 5). Effectively moving towards realizing the objectives of the peace deal will require these issues to be addressed beforehand, in order for the intra-Afghan talks to begin in a supportive environment.
The U.S. – Taliban peace deal had been aimed at establishing a long-term solution to the 2-decade long violence that has existed between U.S. forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The deal outlines the planned actions of both the U.S and the Taliban in line with efforts to make changes towards the envisioned peace. While certain progress has been made towards the intended directions, various challenges have continued to hamper the initiation of intra-Afghan talks, which are essential to the overall realization of the set peace prospects. It is only by addressing the mentioned challenges that complete realization of the objectives of the peace deal will be achieved.
Ferguson, Jane. “Peace talks, the Taliban and Afghan Women’s Uncertain Future.” The New Yorker, 2020 December 19. www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/peace-talks-the-taliban-and-afghan-womens-uncertain-future. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.
Idrees, Muhammad, Ashfaq U Rehman and Manzoor Nazeer. “Afghan Peace Process and the Role of Pakistan in Engaging the Stakeholders.” Liberal Arts and Social Sciences International Journal, vol. 3, no. 2, 2019, pp. 20-34. www.researchgate.net/publication/339124184_Afghan_Peace_Process_and_the_Role_of_Pakistan_in_Engaging_the_Stakeholders. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.
Schirch, Lisa, Aziz Rafiee, Nilofar Sakhi, and Mirwais Wardak. Designing a Comprehensive Peace process for Afghanistan. United States Institute of Peace. www.usip.org/sites/default/files/Designing_a_Comprehensive_Peace_Process_for_Afghanistan.pdf. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.
Sheikh, Mona K. and Maja T.J. Greenwood (Eds.). “Taliban Talks: Past, Present and Prospects for the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.” DIIS Report, 2013 June. www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/97044/1/774665149.pdf. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.
Walsh, Johnny. “The State of Play in U.S. – Taliban Talks and the Afghan Peace Process.” The United States Institute of Peace, 2019 April 11. https://www.usip.org/publications/2019/04/state-play-us-taliban-talks-and-afghan-peace-process. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.
Welna, David and Colin Dwyer. “U.S. Signs Peace Deal with Taliban After Nearly 2 Decades of War in Afghanistan.” NPR, 2020 February, 29. www.npr.org/2020/02/29/810537586/u-s-signs-peace-deal-with-taliban-after-nearly-2-decades-of-war-in-afghanistan. Accessed on 15 May, 2020.