Afghanistan is one of the most isolated, barren landscapes on earth. Enjoying paramount geopolitical importance in Central Asia, Afghanistan rightly merits the epithet “graveyard of empires”.
Due to the endless years of occupation and at a time when Washington, like Afghanistan’s former invaders, Great Britain in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, prepares to pull out its troops from the war-torn nation; Afghanistan remains a perplexing conundrum to Western understanding.
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York provided the then Bush neocon administration a suitable pretext to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban regime. The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University conducted a study showing that the U.S. Government spent $6.4 trillion after nearly two decades of post-9/11 wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though, to the detriment of Afghan people, instability exacerbated across the battle-weary country following the U.S. Invasion.
Following the U.S. Invasion and as the Taliban insurgency dragged out, the American strategists soon understood that the Afghan war, which sent back 3,500 coffins to the United States, not to mention tens of thousands of innocent Afghan causalities, was not at all the picnic trip which they had envisaged. As the successive White House administrations accepted that the Afghan war was all but just another fiasco in American military annals, the attempts to reach peace with Taliban insurgents began.
As the United States’ economy has been severely reeling from its social crises, both Trump administration and Taliban moved towards a convergence of the necessity to reach a viable peace.
The roadmap for peace supposedly envisaged that firstly the U.S. and Taliban would reach a comprehensive peace agreement, and then the intra-Afghan peace dialogue would commence afterwards.
Following the landmark American-Taliban talks in Doha, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, claimed that the US-Taliban negotiations experienced “excellent progress”. But as Taliban had adamantly insisted on the release of 400 of its hard-core members from Afghan state prisons– the majority of them charged with crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and abduction– as a condition for the continuation of peace negotiations, the feeble Afghan administration had no other option than to relegate the decision on the fate of Taliban captives to the Afghan’s traditional public gathering, the Loya Jirga.
In this regard, the Afghan president Ghani was cited by Washington Post as saying “…releasing 400 Taliban PoWs was such a huge responsibility that I couldn’t shoulder it. I do believe that setting free these dangerous criminals is the biggest risk taken by the Afghani nation on the path of establishing peace and security”. Later on, Loya Jirga ratified the exchange of prisoners with Taliban but in return, ardently implored Taliban to sit at the negotiating table with no prevarications.
Irrespective of all optimistic opinions regarding the future of Afghanistan, one would be remiss in his analysis if one takes no notice of abundant complexities which face the Afghan peace, domestically and internationally.
In Afghanistan, there are also strong voices, airing their pessimism in respect to the perilous peace deal with the Taliban. Afghan MP Belquis Roshan from the western city of Herat, described the release of 400 Taliban PoWs as outrageous blackmail imposed on Afghanistan’s state which may cause the conflict to escalate rapidly.
Analysts believe that even in the case of reaching some kind of intra-Afghan deal, it is more likely that it would face a dead-end as the nature of Afghanistan’s political system in future remains highly controversial and ambiguous, for, it is still unclear whether the Afghan political establishment would remain an “Islamic Republic” or change into a Taliban-styled “Islamic Emirate”. Albeit, one thing is certain: neither Afghan state nor Taliban can give up their political visions, as the possibility of a dual political system in a single nation seems infeasible as Taliban spokesmen repeatedly declared that “Taliban won’t recognize at all the de-facto political system in Kabul as a legitimate political entity”.
On the other hand, one must also pay attention to the depth of the schism and infighting, which exist within the Afghan government. In the past two presidential elections in Afghanistan, there were many factional disputes between the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah regarding the election outcomes as there were many talks about vast vote-rigging and fraud. In both elections, Ghani, a U.S. puppet, was officially declared as the winner, but Abdullah refused to commit to accepting the results, though ultimately the two men had accepted to share the power. Hence, taking into consideration the rift between Ghani and Abdullah, it was such a delicate task on the part of the Afghan government to send a harmonious united negotiating team vis-à-vis Taliban.
Internationally, the U.S. has accepted the Taliban’s call to pull out American troops from Afghanistan, but this goal is yet unfulfilled. Thus, even if Intra-Afghan talks would achieve some progress, as long as the U.S. military exists on Afghan soil, peace will be an illusion for Afghanis.
Moreover, the study of history shows us that Washington doesn’t have the potentials to play the role of an effective mediator in peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. As in 1968, the U.S. and North Vietnam signed a deal allowing the South Vietnamese to join the peace talks, but soon after the deal was shattered, and Viet Cong guerrillas entered Saigon.
In conclusion, we may deduce that all three parties, the U.S., the Taliban and the Afghan government want to reach an enduring settlement, but due to the never-dying mistrust among all the negotiators and the ongoing presidential crisis in the United States, peace can’t be achieved in a near future.