- US-Taliban Pact
- The Key elements of the pact
- Troops withdrawal
- Taliban commitment
- Sanctions removal
- Prisoner release
- Challenges ahead
- India and Taliban
- India and Afghanistan
- Side-lining Afghan Government
- Concessions to Taliban
- Shifting the power to Taliban
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The US and Taliban have signed an agreement for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, recently which will enable the US and NATO to withdraw troops in the next 14 months. India attended the signing ceremony in Doha, and was represented by Ambassador to Qatar P Kumaran.
- The pact has been signed between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban” and the US.
- The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.
- Separately, a three-page joint declaration between the Afghan government (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and the US was issued in Kabul.
The Key elements of the pact:
The following are the key elements in the US-Taliban deal:
1. Troops withdrawal:
- The US will draw down to 8,600 troops in 135 days and the NATO or coalition troop numbers will also be brought down, proportionately and simultaneously.
- And all troops will be out within 14 months — “all” would include “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” or “intelligence” personnel.
2. Taliban commitment:
- The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
- The pact is silent on other terrorist groups — such as anti-India groups Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed. As India, not being an US ally is not covered under this pact.
3. Sanctions removal:
- UN sanctions on Taliban leaders to be removed by three months (by May 29, 2020) and US sanctions by August 27, 2020.
- The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue.
4. Prisoner release:
- The US-Taliban pact says up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10 — which is when intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start, in Oslo.
- The joint declaration says the US will facilitate discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.
- Miller identified it as a “possible trouble spot” because the US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government agrees with this “pretty big up-front concession to Taliban”.
- It has been identified as another potential “trouble spot”.
- The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicates actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.
- The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it.
- The Taliban have got what they wanted: troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions, release of prisoners.
- This has also strengthened Pakistan, Taliban’s supporter, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.
- The Afghan government has been completely side-lined during the talks between the US and Taliban.
- The future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain, and will depend on how Taliban honours its commitments and whether it goes back to the mediaeval practices of its 1996-2001 regime.
- Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.
- This is only the first step towards peace. Peace in Afghanistan will be dependent on how the Afghani stakeholders i.e. the Afghanistan government, Taliban and other tribal militant forces cooperate with each other.
India and Taliban:
- India and the Taliban have had a bitter past.
- India holds bitter memories from the IC-814 hijack in 1999, when it had to release terrorists — including Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed that went on to carry out terror attacks on Parliament (2001), in Pathankot (2016) and in Pulwama (2019).
- The Taliban perceived India as a hostile country, as India had supported the anti-Taliban force Northern Alliance in the 1990s.
- India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001.
- In recent years, as US-Taliban negotiations picked up momentum, and India has been in touch with all stakeholders.
- The foreign policy establishment of India has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly.
- Even when former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and Pakistan were sent as “non-official representatives” to talks with the Taliban in Moscow in November 2017, they went as “observers” and did not engage in direct talks, although some conversations are learnt to have taken place on the side-lines.
India and Afghanistan:
- India has been backing the Ghani-led government of Afghanistan.
- India’s proximity to Ghani also drew from their shared view of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
- India’s has reiterated its consistent support for an independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Afghanistan in which interests of all sections of society are preserved.
- India has always supported an “enduring and inclusive” peace and reconciliation which is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”.
- Many Indian diplomats say although there has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion which include projects for Education in the nation.
- The Indian infrastructure projects in Afghanistan include: Chabahar port, Salma dam, Delaram-Zaranj Highway etc.
- Due to these high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.
- So, although Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, but India has a soft power in the nation.
1. Side-lining Afghan Government:
- The fundamental issue with the U.S.’s Taliban engagement is that it deliberately excluded the Afghan government because the insurgents do not see the government as legitimate rulers.
- By giving in to the Taliban’s demand, the U.S. has practically called into question the legitimacy of the government it backs.
2. Concessions to Taliban:
- Second, the U.S. has made several concessions to the Taliban in the agreement.
- The Taliban was not pressed enough to declare a ceasefire.
- Both sides settled for a seven-day reduction of violence period before signing the deal.
- The U.S., with some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, has committed to pull them out in a phased manner in return for the Taliban’s assurances that it would sever ties with other terrorist groups and start talks with the Kabul government.
- But the Taliban, whose rule is known for strict religious laws, banishing women from public life, shutting down schools and unleashing systemic discrimination on religious and ethnic minorities, has not made any promises on whether it would respect civil liberties or accept the Afghan Constitution.
- The Taliban got what it wanted — the withdrawal of foreign troops — without making any major concession.
3. Shifting the power to Taliban:
- Lastly, the U.S. withdrawal will invariably weaken the Kabul government, altering the balance of power both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.
- A weakened government will have to talk with a resurgent Taliban.
- The U.S., in a desperate bid to exit the Afghan war, has practically abandoned the Kabul government and millions of Afghans who do not support the Taliban’s violent, tribal Islamism, to the mercy of insurgents.
- The withdrawal of US forces has the probability of the creation of vacuum in the region and possibility of filling the void by terrorists and extremists. To ensure that regional security is maintained and Taliban does not dictate the nation, US and other stakeholders in the region like India, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia should come forward to aid Afghanistan to become politically stable for regional security and stability.