US-Taliban Peace Deal 2020: The US and Taliban signed a ‘historic’ peace deal recently after nearly 17 months of on-going negotiations. The peace deal was signed on February 29, 2020 at Doha and is aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
As per media reports, the deal was signed between the representatives of the US Government and the Taliban in Qatar’s Doha in the presence of representatives from various countries including India. The deal was signed after a week of partial truce and a ‘reduction in violence’ as agreed upon by both the parties.
The US – Taliban Peace Deal, which is hailed as the ‘historic’ step towards ending the war has several important aspects that need to be assessed closely. The four key aspects related to the deal are discussed below:
US Troops Withdrawal
One of the key highlights because of which the deal is being hailed as ‘historic’ is because it paves the way for ‘complete withdrawal’ of US troops on ground in Afghanistan. According to the agreement, all the US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upholds specific commitments. While withdrawal of the troops was expected on the part of the US, however, the announcement of complete withdrawal has come as a surprise to many, including the Afghan Government.
Currently, there are about 12000 US Troops in Afghanistan. Under the US-Taliban peace deal, the US will reduce the presence of its troops to 8,600 troops within 135 days. On similar lines, the US allies or coalition members will also reduce their troops in Afghanistan. Following this, in the next 10 months, the US will withdraw the rest of the troops provided Taliban upholds its end of the bargain.
The most interesting aspect of the US – Taliban Peace Deal is the aspect related to Intra-Afghan Talks. According to the deal, within 10-15 days of signing of the deal, talks are to commence between the current Afghan Government led by President Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders as well as involving several other armed tribal groups present in the country. The intra-Afghan talks are aimed to be the gateway for lasting peace to prevail in the country through dialogue.
This is probably the most challenging part of the deal, which is likely to see lengthy negotiations and consultations between both the parties with regards to the future of Afghanistan. In fact, many commentators have claimed that considering nearly two decades of armed conflict between the current Afghan Government and the Taliban, the talks might not succeed in spirit. Also, presence of several small armed groups and tribal population, which are neither affiliated to the Ghani Government or the Taliban, will try and derail the negotiators if they do not get a significant amount of the pie.
Taliban to Shun Terrorism
Another important clause of the deal is that as Taliban will be a significant part of the government process in the country, the US has also asked Taliban to stop terrorist organisations from using the Afghan soil to plot attacks against the United States and its allies. The Taliban by its very nature is a hard-line Islamist group consisting of several splinter groups who have their own group of fighters. With such a decentralized organizational structure, even with the best intensions, it would be difficult for Taliban to ensure this in the long run.
In fact, as per media reports, hours before the signing of the US -Taliban peace deal, Taliban had ordered all its fighters in Afghanistan “to refrain from any kind of attack…for the happiness of the nation”. However, despite such a clear call, the country witnessed ‘skirmishes’ during the truce period, which independent observers called as ‘80 percent reduction in violence’. In such circumstances, it would be difficult for the Taliban to commit to this cause.
Another controversial aspect of the US – Taliban Peace Deal has been the swap of prisoners between the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan Government and the Taliban. Currently, there are about 5000 hardline fighters in jail under the watch of the Afghan Government, whom the Taliban wants to be released as a part of the peace deal. In return, the Taliban has also committed to releasing around 1000 Afghan Security Forces that it had taken as prisoner during the armed conflict. According to the peace deal, the prisoner swap is being seen as a confidence-building measure between both the parties and is likely to commence from mid-March in Oslo, Norway.
However, even during the negotiations, the prisoner swap has been a deeply controversial issue and Ashraf Ghani led government is not ready to release them, just yet. The Ghani Government looks at Taliban Prisoners as leverage during the intra-Afghan talks and therefore would like to use them to their advantage during the talks. In fact, as per the latest update, the Afghan Government has already rejected the short timeline proposed for prisoner swap in the peace deal.
Many commentators have termed the US – Taliban Peace Deal as ‘not so good news’ for India, especially considering the open backing that the latter has provided to the current Afghan Government led by Ashraf Ghani. Over the last decade, India has expanded its development assistance to Afghanistan to nearly $3 billion. The assistance extended by India to Afghanistan covers a variety of projects including the construction of roads, the Afghan Parliament, transmission lines, dams, among others.
While India was invited as an observer to Doha for the signing US-Taliban Peace Deal, its role has been primarily limited to this during the process. But, given the current situation, India can best hope for peace to prevail and wait for an opportune moment to bridge ties with the new coalition that rises to power in Afghanistan with Taliban at its helm.