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On 29th February 2020, following 18 months of negotiations, the US and the Taliban finally signed the anticipated landmark “peace agreement”. The US hopes that this would end their involvement in their longest war that is approaching 20 years and allow American troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 14 months.
The so-called peace agreement was perceived by Afghans as a window of opportunity to end one of the most devastating and protracted conflicts in the country. However, too much disappointment, the signed agreement falls below expectations when compared to other peace agreements.
The document portrayed as a peace agreement was essentially a deal between the US and the Taliban allowing the US to pull out of Afghanistan in a more dignified manner and legitimize the Taliban as an entity with which the US could enter into negotiations. The lack of involvement of the Afghan government in what is supposed to be a landmark agreement for the Afghan people cast serious doubts on whether the deal would bring the peace and prosperity for which the Afghan people yearn after decades of war and conflict. The deal has also elicited concerns that it may mark the beginning of another era of conflict.
The signed agreement was discerned as a peace deal and the start of a new beginning for the Afghan people, yet the contents of the agreement do not reflect the standards expected of an effective peace agreement. An imperative element of any peace agreement is to end the continuation of the war between all parties involved, avoid and/or stop the hostilities, protect human lives and avoid collateral damage. However, the signed agreement, which consists of four parts, mainly focuses on the US withdrawal, the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the removal of the Taliban from the US and the UN sanctions lists.
According to the US, the question of a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” will be part of future negotiation and was not part of the signed agreement. In comparison, for example, the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between the Myanmar and Ethnic Armed Organizations dated 15th October 2015 dealt with an immediate ceasefire in Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 elaborated on the details of the dialogue, Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, political roadmap and confidence-building measures. Similarly, in the Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Uganda and the National Rescue Front II, the very first article deals with the cessation of hostilities, followed by integration and resettlement of ex-combatants. Considering the Taliban’s background and the country’s history, integration and resettlement of ex-combatants of Taliban movement are absolutely paramount. All these crucial aspects are unfortunately missing in the so-called comprehensive agreement entered into by the US. This further reinforces the point that this is only a deal and not a peace deal for ending war and conflict in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, it is conspicuous that the US signed an agreement in the presence of the international community with the Taliban, with terms directly affecting the Afghan government, without the involvement of the Afghan government. The fact that the Taliban have been given a platform to negotiate with the US on the international level whilst side-lining the Afghan government has further legitimized the Taliban as an entity and placed the Afghan government in a weaker position, especially as recently President Trump has been in contact with the Taliban political leader to discuss recent developments. Undoubtedly, the Taliban’s new bargaining power will cause further complications during the forthcoming negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Although the deal provided the Taliban with standing on an international level, it appears that the terms of the agreement were not honored given the resumption of hostility by the Taliban a few days post the signing of the agreement. This, however, is not surprising given the Taliban’s well-known track record and the fact that their doctrine is irreconcilable with the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. Most importantly, it is widely evident that there is no centralized authority within the Taliban and that it may be challenging for the Taliban to comply with their obligations under the deal and any future obligations undertaken following intra-Afghan negotiations.
Furthermore, many terms of the agreement are striking, in particular the provision relating to the release of over 5000 Taliban prisoners, especially as the details of the negotiations with the Taliban were confidential and the terms of the agreement were not known to the public or the Afghan government. Taliban prisoners are currently imprisoned in Afghan prisons pursuant to Afghan laws and only the Afghan government has the authority to reach any deal in respect of their release. The US has unilaterally signed a deal with the Taliban, while sidelining the Afghan government and civil society, under which it has made commitments, compliance with which are only possible through the exercise of Afghan government’s authority. This casts doubt on implementation of the deal, as well as unnecessarily enhancing the Taliban’s negotiating position in Intra-Afghan talks and potentially frustrating the forthcoming negotiations.
The deal cannot be viewed as a comprehensive peace agreement that would meet the expectations of the Afghan people. The agreement is lacking various crucial components of an effective peace agreement, particularly as it fails to provide for an immediate ceasefire and was negotiated without the involvement of the Afghan government. Albeit, President Ghani issued a presidential decree to release up to 5000 Taliban prisoners in 3 phases, but there is no mechanism in place in respect of their resettlement and reintegration to stop the prisoners reengaging in terrorist activities and/or seeking vengeance. It is vital to have a specifically tailored apparatus in place prior to their release.
Any progress towards the achievement of sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan, in a manner that does not undo the progress made in the last 19 years, is commendable. However, the signed agreement between the US and the Taliban appears to be simply an opportunistic concession by the US tailored to meet President Trump’s key campaign promise of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, rather than a comprehensive peace deal that could pave the way for the end of war and conflict in Afghanistan.