By Dr. Muhammad Nadeem Mirza Faculty Member, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-iAzam University (QAU); Hussain Abbas Ph.D. scholar, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad; Ummul Baneen Assistant Professor, Arts and Media Department, Foundation University Islamabad, Pakistan.
Published by the Journal of Peace, Development and Communication (JPDC).
Afghan war has long been considered as a strategic failure, as the US could neither bring an end to the violence, nor ensure complete territorial control. Deteriorating security situation has also endangered stability of the adjoining states. With the failure of military means to resolve Afghan crisis, the need for a political solution gained momentum resulting in the US-Taliban agreement in early 2020. This study traces out why, despite various rounds of talks and initiatives of reconciliation and peace process, the successful stability could not be achieved in Afghanistan. The study concluded that all the stake-holders continued to pursue unrealistic objectives, resulting in failure of the previous efforts of peace talks.
On February 29, 2020, the United States and Taliban signed a deal which is considered as the beginning of the end of one of the longest wars in US history (Mashal, 2020). Afghanistan has remained unstable since the US-led invasion in 2001. Although the immediate objective of the invasion, that is, overthrowing the Taliban regime was achieved, yet the long-term objective of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists having global orientation could not be achieved till today – remnants of Al-Qaeda and a reinvigorated ISIS is still active in Afghanistan. Besides, Taliban after abdication from power, adopted guerilla warfare as a means to challenge the US forces and US-supported government at Kabul. Resultantly neither terrorism nor insurgency could be eradicated from the state. Presence of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) comprising personnel from 44 to 52 states could not bring stability in Afghanistan. When ISAF ended its operations in 2014, most of Afghanistan was still not in the control of Kabul (Giustozzi, 2018; Tisdall, 2018).
One of the major causes of failure of the international forces to bring stability in Afghanistan remained adopting ‘military’ means to bring peace. But, since the appointment of Richard Holbrook as President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, efforts have been strengthened to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan through both military as well as non-military means (Harnden, 2010). But due to divergence of interests and objectives between the involved actors, those efforts could not bring desired results. Rather deadlocks and uncertainty prevailed through most of the times. Less faith towards the utility and feasibility of talks, and mistrust among the actors remained the main issues of concerns.
In September 2018, President Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad – an astute diplomat having immense experience of working on the hot seats – as US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. Being an Afghan born US citizen, he immediately embarked upon the uphill task of building rapprochement with the Taliban and other actors, and gave a clear message to everyone that this time the United States is determined to sign a formal agreement (Mashal & Jakes, 2020). Resultantly faith in the utility of the talks developed and within one month i.e. in October 2018 Pakistan freed Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader – one of the founders of Taliban movement – from jail. He later joined the Taliban political office in Doha, as its head negotiator. About one and half years of talks between the two resulted into a formal agreement signed in February 2020.
Both the United States and Taliban downgraded their previous positions and tried to achieve realistic objectives this time. For example Taliban have continuously been refusing to hold talks with the Afghan government considering it to be a puppet of the western forces. But as part of the agreement, it agreed to hold intra-Afghan dialogue. Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban’s deputy leader, notes in an op-ed he’d written for the New York Times, “We are conscious of the immense challenges ahead. Perhaps our biggest challenge is to ensure that various Afghan groups work hard and sincerely toward defining our common future. I am confident that it is possible. If we can reach an agreement with a foreign enemy, we must be able to resolve intraAfghan disagreements through talks (emphasis added)” (Haqqani, 2020).
The United States, on the other hand, agreed to reduce the number of forces from 12,000 to 8,600 in 135 days. And if the Taliban continues to honour their part of the deal, all the foreign forces will be withdrawn within fourteen months (Maizland, 2020). It seems that the United States again has agreed to an unrealistic objective of complete withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan, to appease Taliban and formalize an agreement with them – this being their first and foremost demand. Because American public has grown wary of the Afghan war being one of the longest and having costed more than $2 Trillions, with thousands of casualties. President Trump has made a campaign promise to end Afghan war. There is no doubt that he will use this agreement as a success story for his upcoming election campaign. Complete withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan is unrealistic because it might create a situation similar to the 1990s when several Afghan factions started a civil war after the US withdrawal. Besides strategically the US complete withdrawal will create a power vacuum in Afghanistan which could be filled by other great powers lying in Afghanistan’s vicinity. So it is unexpected that the United States will completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, and will remain engaged even if complete peace and stability is achieved therein. The United States has made complete withdrawal conditional and dependent upon the Taliban behavior. President Trump, after the agreement, said “I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show that we’re not all wasting time … If bad things happen, we’ll go back … we’ll go back with a force like nobody has ever seen” (Trump, 2020).
Keywords: Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States, Reconciliation, Peace, Taliban, National Interest, Terrorism, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Management, Conflict Analysis, Civil War, Counter-Insurgency
Mirza, Muhammad Nadeem and Abbas, Hussain and Baneen, Ummul, Mapping Contours of Reconciliation and Peace Process in Afghanistan: Policy Options for Pakistan (June 30, 2020). Journal of Peace, Development and Communication, vol. 04, no. 01, 2020, pp. 1–22, https://doi.org/10.36968/JPDC-V04-I01-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3702854 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3702854