The present developments in relation to Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan is primarily between USA and Taliban without the involvement of the Unity government at the helm of affairs in Kabul

by Brig N K Bhatia

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after signing the USA – Taliban Peace deal in Doha in a statement to the press admitted that “we recognize America shouldn’t fight in perpetuity in the graveyard of empires if we can help Afghan’s forge peace”.

The above statement in nutshell sums up a long-anticipated admission from the only superpower about the invincibility of Afghans and the need to leave them to chalk out their own destiny and roadmap which everyone admits are going to be tremulous and violent.

Eventually, who will get to govern Afghans will be decided by the Afghans themselves’ most probably in a brutal and violent power play that will unfold long after the “occupation forces” would have departed from Afghan soil.

The present developments in relation to Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan is primarily between USA and Taliban without the involvement of the Unity government at the helm of affairs in Kabul.

The USA signed an Agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ better known as Taliban which it does not recognise as a state but expects it to deliver peace Afghanistan.

The Agreement in four parts aims to insulate the USA and its allies from threats emanating from Afghan soil, a roadmap for the US and NATO troop withdrawal, calls upon the Taliban to start intra Afghan negotiations by 10 March and decide on a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire to be discussed in intra Afghan talks.

In a nutshell, the deal is a face-saving Agreement for the USA to exit Afghanistan, something that has been in the works for close to 18 months with the support of US President Trump who had promised to bring back US troops from Afghan soil.

The Agreement is a complete the victory of sorts for the Taliban who will have their 5,000 fighters released and sanctions removed in exchange for 1000 hostages held by them and post initiation of inter Afghan dialogue.

The current Ashraf Ghani government has refused to accede to the demand for the release of Taliban prisoners saying that it was not for the US government to decide the release of prisoners. He linked the release to commencement of negotiations with Taliban thereby indicating that Ashraf Ghani government would need to be taken along for any settlement in Afghanistan.

The Agreement calls upon Taliban to ensure that Afghan soil is not used against the USA and its allies. That indeed is a tall order. An outfit deep imbibed in a radical and violent ideology committing to such a commitment seems remote.

The signing of the Agreement leaves Afghans to their destiny with the prospects of peace extremely remote. The Agreement clearly gives the Taliban an upper hand in future intra Afghan talks as it can now claim legitimacy, having been accepted as a party to the deal. This makes the situation of the present Afghan government, waiting to assume power extremely precarious. Being in power it is Ashraf Ghani led government that will need to commence talks with the Taliban. By publicly refusing to release Taliban prisoners it may be trying to show its relevance and indicate that it is in control of the situation.

The role of Mr Khailzad who has worked closely with the present Ashraf Ghani government and Taliban would remain relevant in future for the Agreement to be delivered. He may have succeeded in finding a way out for the USA to extricate itself from a messy situation but would need to work harder to see the Agreement implemented in its totality for peace to return in Afghanistan.

The US Defence secretary and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Kabul at the signing of Agreement committed to helping sustain the Afghan security forces but that are likely to be difficult once the Taliban is control of the situation.

The security situation in Afghanistan is likely to see increased instability. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so far have held ground due to continued assistance and prodding from USA and NATO forces. With the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the ANSF are likely to lose direction and would need to fend for themselves. The rank and file are sure to feel the pressures of Agreement as Taliban fighters, armed to the teeth are likely to demand a bigger role in the day to day security operations for control of territory. This may well lead to the fissures amongst the ANSF and lead to instability and desertions.

The Indian Foreign Secretary rushed to Kabul a day prior to the signing of the Agreement to extend a helping hand and signed two agreements to build roads in Afghanistan. He also met a number of Afghan leaders and committed to remaining engaged with developmental activities.

Indian soft power projection in Afghanistan would be of little help in making bridges with an emerging regime that has worked closely with the backing of antagonist neighbours that would be too happy to see India’s retreat from Afghanistan. Some hard and bold initiatives to engage with the new political powers in close assistance from existing assets may be worth the effort.

The USA and NATO may have secured an exit and peace for themselves with the signing of Agreement and handing over reins to an adversary that they failed to tame, but the situation in Afghanistan will continue to remain volatile with new power centres filling up the vacuum. Since the region is India’s extended neighbourhood, the same calls for proactive engagement and change in thinking.