US-Taliban fragile pact plus weak political leadership in Kabul to push Afghanistan towards fresh nightmare 

May 2, 2020 - 11:43

It is obvious that the recently signed agreement between the United States and Taliban as well as the current political leaders in Kabul are not capable of bringing an end to the Afghans' decades-long problems, making the war-hit country's people feel afraid of upcoming days of more instability and insecurity.

Ronald E. Neumann, a former US ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain, and Afghanistan, explained in his article published by The Hill that how disastrous will be the situation in Afghanistan in future as the United State's agreement with Taliban was not a comprehensive peace deal and the political standoff in Kabul has been deteriorated. 

"Peace negotiations are stalled. Taliban attacks are increasing. COVID-19 is spreading in Afghanistan. And Afghanistan’s leaders are spending their time feuding overpower and the division of ministerial spoils. The Afghan and American people deserve better. How did we get here, and what needs to be done?" Neumann stated.

America’s agreement with the Taliban is not a peace agreement but, rather, an agreement for the withdrawal of American forces. Hope remains that this agreement could lead to the start of real peace negotiations — but even if they start, the road to peace will belong. The difficult US negotiations contained a serious slip at the end. The agreement states that the Afghan government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for the release of 1,000. However, the Afghan government had agreed only to “best efforts” toward such a release. Moving from a pledge to work on the issue to a firm US commitment appears to have lacked Afghan government consent and to have surprised Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Since the prisoners are one of the few cards Ghani holds to leverage Taliban negotiations, it is not surprising that he refused. 

Although some prisoners are being released — but not those the Taliban most want — the dispute has given the Taliban a pretext to refuse to start negotiations. The U.S. is left having to press our ally for more concessions and implore the Taliban to start talks. This may yet work.  Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, having made commendable progress to get this far, is working to get the negotiations going. But getting to actual peace remains a long way away. Even to get to this point, the US had to give up its long-sought goal of having the Taliban agree to break ties with al Qaeda. Instead, we have only a paper promise that the Taliban will not let any movement organize attacks against America or its allies from Afghanistan — a weak promise at best.

The Taliban are continuing the war. As two recent reports by the Afghan Analysts Network have documented, after a week of lowered attacks during the so-called reduction in violence period, Taliban attacks have steadily increased. US and NATO airstrikes have responded to some of the Taliban attacks and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have insisted that troop withdrawal beyond the first phase is “conditional” and could be halted. But the conditions have not been spelled out in public, so America’s resolve is unclear. And the Taliban continue to attack.

Taliban attacks, propaganda that proclaims they are winning, and their demand for more prisoner releases all suggest that the Taliban feel no urgency about serious negotiations. They may yet get serious if they believe they cannot win militarily — but that, in turn, depends on both the clarity of American purpose and the strength of the Afghan government in Kabul. And strength in Kabul is conspicuously lacking. While America has made many mistakes in Afghanistan, the current political crisis is an Afghan problem.

President Ghani and his chief rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, took power in 2014 in the National Unity Government. Neither really liked the arrangement but each promised electoral reform to ensure a better future. Years of squabbling, reinforced by parliamentary maneuvering, were far more about trying to weigh the process in favor of one side or the other than about real reform.  The parliamentary elections of 2018 had somewhat reduced fraud but were an administrative disaster. The long-postponed presidential elections on Sept. 28, 2019, led to more squabbling and disputed votes. 

The Afghan constitution requires a runoff if no candidate wins over 50 percent of the votes.  President Ghani claimed victory with 50.64 percent of the vote. This tally, which Abdullah disputes, is far less than a clear mandate in an election with the lowest voter turnout, estimated at between 20 and 25 percent of registered voters, of any Afghan election to date.

The result is a continued political standoff. Ghani and Abdullah both have declared victory while negotiating a solution for weeks. The outline of a settlement — Abdullah heading peace negotiations and getting 40 percent of the ministries — seems agreed to in principle but there is a standoff over the details. When they do reach an agreement, it is likely to be no more than a pause before the squabbles resume as each side tries to undercut the other.

Nothing that is in contention is about policy or the good of Afghanistan. The argument between the two leaders urged on by hungry supporters who want a piece of the spoils, is about power.  Meanwhile, governance is in doubt and the country is beleaguered on every side.

Late in February, the US and Taliban negotiators signed a historic agreement in Qatar that was supposed to end 19 years of war in Afghanistan and allow President Donald Trump to begin the promised withdrawal of American troops.

The four-page pact spells out a timetable for the United States to withdraw its 13,000 troops from Afghanistan; in exchange, the Taliban agreed to sever its ties with al-Qaida, the terrorist group that launched the 9/11 attacks against the US.

The agreement was supposed to set the stage for further negotiations between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban, a militant group that once ruled Afghanistan.

MJ

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