US-Taliban deal may lead to more instability

By Wang Jin

After nearly two decades of war, representatives of the U.S. Government and Afghanistan militant group Taliban signed a peace deal in the Qatari capital city of Doha on February 29. For the U.S., the agreement is an acceptable way to end its military presence in Afghanistan. Yet, for Afghanistan, it actually points to the beginning of further turbulence, rather than opening the way to peace.
According to the long-awaited pact, the U.S. and NATO will withdraw their military troops from Afghanistan within 14 months and release Taliban prisoners held by both the U.S. and the Afghan Government if the Taliban honors its counter-terrorism commitments. The U.S. also promised to lift all sanctions against the Taliban and provide economic assistance to Afghanistan without any interference in its internal affairs. In addition to undertaking not to provide asylum to terrorists and extremists, the Taliban agreed to start negotiations with the Afghan Government to determine a ceasefire schedule.
In short, the deal could be perceived as a major victory for the Taliban, but a total defeat for the U.S.
First, the U.S. has officially recognized the political status of the Taliban. In 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition, the George W. Bush administration claimed that it wanted to establish a “democratic” political system to construct a national consensus in Afghanistan and declined the Taliban’s participation in the process. The Taliban was then considered a “protector of terrorists” that could not be included in a “democratic” political system. However, with the resurgence of the Taliban in the following years, Afghanistan’s future could not be forged without its involvement. After longstanding negotiations since 2013, the U.S. finally recognizes the role of the Taliban through the peace deal.
Second, the role of the Afghan Central Government has been reduced. The U.S. had stressed the necessity of direct talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. But the Taliban rejected the idea and maintained that peace could only be realized through negotiations with the U.S., since it considers the Afghan Government a puppet regime supported by the U.S. and therefore reasons that contact with it is meaningless. In the peace deal, the U.S. gives up its claim by introducing Afghan government representatives to the negotiation table. Although the deal calls for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government to address internal political issues, uncertainties remain and the future is still far from clear.
Third, there is no ceasefire control mechanism in the deal. Although the U.S. encourages the Taliban to approach the Afghan Government after its military withdrawal, there are no compulsory measures for the Taliban to do so. The post-U.S. exit military vacuum could be filled by conflicts among different military groups. It should be noted that the Taliban is not a coherent political and military organization. Divisions and competition among different factions are salient, and the peace deal may not be accepted by all Taliban leaders. Any strikes and attacks launched by Taliban militants against Afghan government targets could lead to overall confrontation and destroy the already fragile peace prospects.
However, the U.S. military withdrawal is certain, and possible conflicts between the Taliban and Afghan government troops, or between the Taliban and the U.S., would not reverse U.S. President Donald Trump’s pullout decision.
If the peace deal is fully accepted by the Afghan Government, it means that the Taliban would be incorporated into the government system, which could be a significant blow to the secular political arena in the country. Given the powerful presence and influence of the Taliban in many areas, its participation in state administration will force many leading political factions in central and local governments to give up some power, which is unlikely. Meanwhile, the process requires close coordination and consensus among different political factions with widening differences which could make it an impossible task.
Disagreements and divisions among different political factions in the Afghan Government are prominent. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is facing a challenge from his major opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who was former chief executive officer of Afghanistan. After losing his second presidential bid in the recent election, Abdullah has, however, alleged electoral fraud and is trying to establish a parallel government to challenge the Ghani administration. Surrounded and supported by large groups of opponents and dissidents, Abdullah’s base of followers is considerable large and could threaten Ghani’s authority.
Meanwhile, the Ghani administration’s influence may not be able to expand to many areas, with the gap between it and provincial authorities growing after the deal. Many provincial governments are controlled or influenced by local military groups and strong tribal clans, which can be traced back to the 1980s when they resisted the Soviet Union’s invasion. After 1996, when the Taliban controlled nearly all parts of Afghanistan, these factions continued their resistance and finally came to power with the help of the U.S. in 2003.
–The Daily Mail-Beijing Review news exchange item