This week representatives from the Taliban and the U.S. have met for 6 days in Qatar to discuss an 18 month strategy for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Although agreements have not been finalised, U.S. representative Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that the talks have been “more productive than they have been in the past.” In exchange for the U.S. leaving Afghanistan, the Taliban have agreed to no longer provide safe haven for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). Furthermore, the talks have also put in place agreements to swap prisoners. So far it seems like a successful meeting with the promise of bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this may be just a superficial fix to the Afghanistan conflict. Sure enough, many US troops will be able to go home, but it is unclear whether this would truly bring an end to the fighting and bring about peace, or give Taliban victory in Afghanistan. In 2014, when foreign troops first withdrew from the conflict the Taliban’s power increased in the area with about 15 million people now living in areas controlled by the Taliban.
During the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, President Ashraf Gahni of Afghanistan stated that 45,000 members of the country’s security force have been killed since 2014. That casualty figure amounts to nearly 30 deaths a day. Mr Ghani indicated that with the withdrawal of outside help, the burden of the conflict will be passed on to the Afghani troops. “The number of international casualties is less than 72… it shows who is doing the fighting,” Mr Ghani followed up. An increase in the death toll rate will be unsustainable for the Afghani government. Meanwhile, it’s not just combatants who are killed by conflict. In 2017, according to the UN more than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured. The speculated withdrawal of troops has prompted fears of a refugee crisis. It seems that many experts believe that U.S. troops leaving the conflict will create more instability in the area.
The biggest hindrance to achieving peace has been the Taliban’s unwillingness to hold meetings with Mr. Gahni or other government officials, seeing them as mere “puppets.” Instead, the Taliban prefer to meet with the U.S. as they see them as the real enemy of the conflict. Although the U.S. and Afghan government have been fighting on the same side, with the U.S. holding significant influence over the conflict, denying Afghan officials a seat at the negotiating table means peace agreements lack focus on protecting civilian themselves. BBC Correspondent Secunder Kermani also agrees, stating that the focus is currently on getting Taliban and Afghan government to meet face-to-face in order to end immediate violence. Subsequently, there will need to be further negotiations about the Taliban’s stance on women’s rights, freedom of the press, and democracy before positive peace can be established. Positive peace will be not only the absence of fighting between the two sides, but also creating a stable political structure for the country.
Mr. Gahni has previously said that he would be willing for the Taliban to be recognised as a political party if they agreed to a ceasefire and recognised the country’s constitution. Assimilating the Taliban into the democratic system appears to be the best option for a smooth transition to peace. Therefore, the U.S. talks should not be largely focusing on how they themselves can leave but also leveraging their power to bring about political changes to the system as well.