The Current Deal
The current Afghan peace deal is falling apart at the seams. On February 29th, the United States and the Taliban came to an agreement which included the U.S. and NATO withdrawing all their forces from Afghanistan. The deal also included provisions barring the Taliban from allowing any other extremist group to operate within the land they had control of. Just a few months later, the failings of the deal have become clearer when the Taliban walked out of negotiations with the Afghan government on April 7th, 2020. Disagreements over a prisoner swap the U.S. and the Taliban agreed to earlier brought negotiations to a grinding halt. But the failings did not stop there. Towards the end of April, the UN issued a new report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The outlook isn’t good. According to the report, violence has surged following the deal.
The UN claims there have been over 500 civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2020 alone. The report outlines a wealth of atrocities. Between January and March, which includes periods before and after the U.S. and Taliban signed the peace deal, civilian casualties peaked at 533 dead and 760 injured. March was particularly bloody, with the UN reporting it as being even more bloody than March of 2019. This was the month directly following the one in which the Taliban agreed to peace. Even more worrisome is the fact that there are more than 400 child casualties. Over 150 of them were deaths. The Taliban and other anti-government groups were found responsible for 55% of the civilian casualties. Pro-government forces were found responsible for 31%. While these numbers are down to about a third of those from last year, there is no level of civilian casualties that are acceptable.
What Went Wrong?
The first signs of trouble in the deal were prisoner swaps. The prisoner swaps were a key precondition to formal peace negotiations on March 10th, 2020. The agreement specified the Afghan government must release at least 5,000 Taliban soldiers, and the Taliban must release at least 1,000 Afghan security force members. Surprisingly, resistance didn’t come from the Taliban on this issue. Rather, the Afghan government is vehemently opposing the release of a select few Taliban members. The Taliban wanted the Afghan government to release 15 of its higher-ranking commanders. The government claims they all took part in “big attacks”, and they would not release them. The final offer from the Afghan government was far from what the original deal had promised. Instead of 5,000 Taliban soldiers, they would only conditionally release 1,500.
In response to the deal beginning to crumble, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan to help smooth over the disagreements. He visited both sides of the negotiations, and came up empty. Because of this, Pompeo threatened to cut one billion dollars in U.S. aid to Afghan security forces. Experts rejected the move. Many said it would undermine the fight against the Taliban by both weakening the Afghan state’s security forces, and by diminishing their negotiating power. The move would do the latter by making it seem like the U.S. is moving away from supporting the Afghan government. Additionally, the funding withdrawal could severely hurt the quality of life in Afghanistan. The funds are often funneled into salaries, food, and infrastructure. Removing funding for these could leave Afghanistan destitute.
What Can Be Done?
In order to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the U.S. must make some concessions. It seems unlikely the Afghan government will do so, so the U.S. must assume responsibility. In order to appease Taliban leaders, the U.S. should grant them a key demand they have made for years. The U.S. must offer to scale back CIA presence in the country in exchange for the Taliban accepting the Afghan’s prisoner swap offer. The U.S. has hundreds of CIA operatives stationed in Afghanistan, and the Taliban has repeatedly requested their removal. Using the CIA as a bargaining chip could draw the Taliban back into negotiations and be the much-needed key to breaking past the prisoner swap dilemma. Taking action is essential to save thousands of civilians’ lives that will be otherwise lost.