About the Author

Waris Sabah

The author is a researcher at the department of International Relations at Stockholm University in Sweden. He was recently the Vice President of the Stockholm Association of International Affairs (SAIA) and has worked with different national and international organizations in Afghanistan.  

President Trump inherited his predecessor’s fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, at the peak of its intensity and has been fairly consistent in vowing to defeat the extremist group and bring U.S. troops back home.

In December he unexpectedly announced pulling out roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, which filled everyone with shock and hysteria. The screaming grew louder when it was reported that he intends to withdraw half of the American forces from Afghanistan, a move that immediately set off a storm and prompted bipartisan backlash from lawmakers and his own national security advisers.

More than seventeen years after the US invasion, the Taliban are stronger and more dangerous than ever. The Afghan government is in disarray. The conflict has reached something close to a stalemate and the American forces are not even closer to defeating the Taliban.

Trump, frustrated with stalemate in Afghanistan, last year decided to open talks directly with the Taliban to end America’s longest ever war. The adversaries now are making headway in negotiations and have agreed in principle on a framework to end the conflict. 

Trump’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad is leading the American side in the talks and Taliban is represented by their office chief, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai and co-founder of the movement Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. They have so far completed their sixth round of face-to-face peace talks that began in late 2018 in Doha, the Qatari capital.

Additionally, since 2018 three meetings have been completed in Moscow between the Taliban, representatives from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and prominent Afghan politicians, including previous president Hamid Karzai.

The two sides have agreed on a “draft framework” that discusses the withdrawal of U.S. troops in return for some sort of guarantees from the Taliban, that the Afghan soil will never again be exploited by international “terror” groups and implementation of ceasefire all across the country. However, the Taliban insists that it will make no commitments until U.S. announces a withdrawal timeline.

The militant group, however, has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the Afghan government directly. They believe that the country has been occupied by the foreign forces when their regime was overthrown in 2001 by the US-led military intervention. The government in Kabul has no real power, calling it a U.S. imposed “puppet” regime. Engagement of any sort with the government in Kabul would grant it legitimacy, the group says.

Let’s consider two possible scenarios here: What will happen if the US-Taliban peace talks succeed or fall apart?

There is certainly a growing desperation for peace among ordinary Afghans and if the talks collapse, war will further intensify and the civilians will suffer more. The U.S. and rest of the world would have to cope with a security vacuum in which extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda find fertile ground. In addition, alarming rise in the production of drugs and a massive influx of refugees would not only pose dire challenges to Afghanistan, but the entire region and rest of the world.

But if the Trump administration rushes into some kind of peace settlement with the Taliban, the pact certainly won’t be devoid of setbacks for human rights and women’s rights in particular. Majority of Afghans, especially women fear that a peace settlement with the Taliban could restrict their freedom and rights that have been won since the regime was toppled by the U.S.

Taliban on the other hand, has reassured that if they return to power, women rights would be protected, as long as they are in accordance with the Islamic and Sharia principles. A statement that leaves much to interpretation.

The conflict in Afghanistan is the longest in American history, outlasting World War I, World War II, Civil War, Korean War, and Spanish-American war combined. Thousands of American and NATO forces died along with tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and a trillion-plus dollar in expenditures, there will be no outright victory in Afghanistan anytime soon.

Trump seems frustrated by Afghan war and the administration is desperate to reach to some kind of deal with the Taliban ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Without doubt, the way to cope with terrorism need to rely not on endless war but principally on intelligence and diplomacy and the peace deal with the Taliban remains a long-shot, but well worth trying. However, if a hasty deal is signed, it would surely help Trump’s reelection campaign by the foreign policy breakthrough story he will tell to voters, but it will immensely jeopardize all hard-won gains.

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