Perhaps the US armed intervention in Afghanistan will end soon, and the Afghans will be on a peaceful development path. Or maybe, on the contrary, the country will be swept by waves of even more severe chaos and violence. There can be no unequivocal opinion. After all, this is Afghanistan, which is not in vain called the cemetery of empires.
This October citizens mark 19 years since US forces invaded Afghanistan to search for terrorist Osama bin Laden, fight the al-Qaida terrorist organization and the Taliban which covered it. During this time, about 2 500 American soldiers, more than a thousand fighters of the antiterrorist coalition, including from NATO member countries, about 14 000 Afghan military and police, up to 35 000 Taliban members and militants of other armed groups, as well as at least 10 000 civilians died.
A key condition for the agreement between Khalilzad and Baradar is the reduction of violence between parties to the conflict. The negotiators decided to abandon the formulation of a ceasefire, since this is almost impossible in Afghanistan, where in every village you can find a Kalashnikov rifle or a grenade. Americans and the Taliban will oversee this condition during the week.
If successful, the Taliban will begin negotiations with the Afghan government. If they agree on a lasting peace, they will form a common government. The Taliban and the Americans will create a committee in Doha to coordinate a peaceful settlement. Former opponents agreed to exchange prisoners of war: 5 000 Taliban members will be exchanged for a thousand Afghan security forces soldiers.
For a long time, the Americans and the Taliban could not come to a common position on the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan. The Taliban demanded the immediate withdrawal of the contingent. The US was afraid to do this, since no one could protect Kabul from being captured by the Taliban. Now in Afghanistan there are 12 000 US military and 4 500 military personnel of NATO member countries.
Khalilzad and Baradar reached a compromise. US troops will be phased out of Afghanistan over the next 14 months. Within 135 days, 5 000 troops will go home. In exchange, the Taliban leader agreed to sever relations with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, stop granting them asylum in Afghanistan.
Who benefits from the peace?
The peace agreement with the Taliban is beneficial for US President Donald Trump. Back in 2016, he promised his voters to end the “endless” war in Afghanistan. According to a January poll by the Maryland Institute, most Republicans support a reduction in US contingent. The same goes for Democrats. The withdrawal of 5 000 US troops from Afghanistan will give the impression that Trump did not talk in vain. This will strengthen his ratings on the eve of the presidential election in November this year.
The owner of the Oval Office won in impeachment procedure and now wants to deliver a crushing blow to his opponents: Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. If Democratic presidential candidates only promise to end the war in Afghanistan, then Trump is already dealing with this issue. The American president draws on the experience of Richard Nixon, who won the presidential election in 1968, promising to end the Vietnam War with "an honorable peace." According to a recent Gallup poll, Trump's support level rose to 49%. About 94% of Republicans are loyal to the president.
Trump is trying to present the agreement with the Taliban as a serious foreign policy victory amid unsuccessful attempts to reach an agreement with the DPRK leader Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, a failed sanctions policy on Iran and start an arms race with Russia after withdrawing from the agreement on the elimination of intermediate and shorter-range missiles. The Americans managed to beat the Russians, who also tried to break into the peace process in Afghanistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with representatives of the Taliban in Moscow. The Kremlin managed to win over the government in Kabul. In March 2014, then-President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai recognized Crimea as part of Russia.
The Doha agreement can be considered a victory for the Taliban, as they legalized their status in the political process in Afghanistan. The Americans will not stop them from destroying their opponents among other radical Islamists, including the local cell of the Islamic State. One of the participants in the Doha Taliban delegation, Abbas Stakinzai, called the agreement with the United States a victory.
Do not exaggerate the significance of the Doha agreement as a guarantee of peace in Afghanistan. In the American media, the document is already compared with the notorious Paris Peace Agreement of 1973 between the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and its allies. The agreement also provided for the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of American troops, the exchange of prisoners of war. The sovereignty of South Vietnam was guaranteed. Nevertheless, in 1975, the Vietnamese communists violated the terms of the Paris Peace Treaty and captured the South Vietnamese capital Saigon, and a year later North Vietnam and South Vietnam merged into one state.
No one guarantees that after the withdrawal of the American military, the Taliban will not violate the terms of the agreement in Doha and will not launch an attack on the positions of the Afghan security forces, which level of training leaves much to be desired despite the efforts of NATO instructors. There is a possibility of the restoration of theocratic regime led by the Taliban, which existed in Afghanistan in 1996-2001.
Twenty U.S. Republican and Democratic lawmakers sent letters to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and urged them not to take the Taliban as a counterterrorism partner. Retired general Douglas Lute, who consulted presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, believes that if the Americans seriously leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will capture Kabul, as the North Vietnamese took Saigon.
Another retired American general, Jack Kane, is confident that the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan under the current conditions will entail negative consequences. According to the general, thanks to the military presence in Afghanistan, it was possible to restrain the new attacks of al-Qaeda against the United States. According to politically informed insiders of Kane, in case of holding transparent elections in Afghanistan, the Taliban have no chance to win in any of the regions of the country, since the local population does not support Islamists. The general believes that the government of neighboring Pakistan supplies the Taliban with weapons, provides them with shelter, and helps produce explosives for sabotage against the American and Afghan military.
There will be no peace in Afghanistan if the Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar cannot agree on anything with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan president is unhappy that he was not involved in the negotiation process of the Americans and the Taliban. Ghani did not attend the Doha agreement signing ceremony, but met with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kabul. It is not yet clear how supporters of political Islam and secular politicians will share power. Afghan women already fear infringement of their rights if Islamic law (Sharia) is introduced.
Even if the peace dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan authorities succeeds, the hostilities in Afghanistan may continue for more than one year. Although Baradar promised to stop cooperating with terrorist organizations, they still need to be forced to leave Afghanistan. You can’t do this without power. In addition to Al-Qaida and ISIS, 18 terrorist organizations operate in the country. It is unlikely that they will all be ready to lay down their weapons voluntarily.
However, the Taliban itself is a heterogeneous movement. Among its participants are both moderate Islamists, ready for peace and compromise, and radicals interested in regaining control of the whole country. The Haqqani Network, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, is associated with the Taliban. After a peace with the Americans, a split can occur among the Taliban. Not all field commanders will abide by the Doha agreement.
The process of peaceful settlement in Afghanistan is hampered by an unfavorable economic situation. More than half of Afghanistan’s 16 million people live below the poverty line. The economy has stagnated since 2014. The currency has depreciated. The banking sector is poorly developed; almost no one draws up loans. Instability discourages foreign investors despite the lots of mineral resources in Afghanistan. The cost of deposits of gold, iron, copper, aluminum, chromium, sulfur is estimated at more than a trillion dollars. Up to 90% of Afghans live in rural areas. Due to the drought in 2018, wheat production decreased by 24%. Participants in the conflict, who want to lay down their arms and return to civilian life, risk being left out of work.
There is a risk that thousands of people will be involved in criminal activity. Illicit drug production and trafficking remains a separate problem. Afghan farmers continue to earn for living by growing poppy, from which opium is produced. Poppy is grown on 263 000 hectares of land. In 2018, the turnover from opium sales in Afghanistan amounted to $ 604 million, and it was over a billion a year earlier. Smuggling and arms trafficking are rampant in the country. On the Afghan black market, you can buy small arms and light weapons for every taste, including Kalashnikov assault rifles at a price of $ 400 to $ 1,500, as well as American M4 and M16 assault rifles. Post-war Afghanistan has a vague future.