Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 60, 1 April 2020

Afghanistan: Deal is a smokescreen for the Taliban, says an international report
Sukanya Bali

In the news

On 31 March, in a series of Briefing Notes analysing the nascent peace process in Afghanistan, the International Crisis Group assessed two primary reasons for the Taliban's interest to come to the negotiating table. First, the Taliban’s interest in ending the war in the region and second, the Taliban’s regret for missing out on foreign aid to Afghanistan post-2001. The briefings question Taliban’s seriousness toward the US-Taliban peace deal which was signed after 19 months of negotiation on 29 February in Doha. 

Issues at large 

First, for the Taliban, the deal between the US and Taliban may be a smokescreen as the group still resist the Afghan security forces and showcase the agreement as a victory against the US forces in the region. Recently, the Taliban refused to negotiate with the 21-member team made by the Afghan government on intra-Afghan talks. The reaction has thus raised concern among many Afghans on the sincerity of the Taliban’s commitment.

Second, the Taliban lack a clear path to military victory. The report has argued that it is mere speculation that after the complete withdrawal of the US, the Taliban may launch a full-fledged military operation to take over Kabul. As the Taliban recognises that its opponents are better armed, negotiations over military conquest are more likely chosen by the group. 

Some in the Taliban also believe that the growing seriousness of the US on withdrawing from Afghanistan is the right opportunity for them to achieve their goals and establish an ‘Islamic system' and claim victory. After the negotiation, foreign aid could be used by all factions, which may help in building intra-Afghan governances.

Third, the Taliban seem to have got everything it wanted. The US-Taliban talks indicate that the US approved of the Taliban’s sequence for negotiations. In turn, the Taliban followed the ‘America first strategy’, to conclude a deal before negotiating with the Afghan government. The deal gave what the Taliban have been demanding for long: the withdrawal of foreign troops. Additionally, the deal also gives the Taliban legitimacy in the international order. However, if it fails to express its interest in the intra-Afghan talks and continues with the attacks, the US may retract support and the Taliban may lose its newly held position.

In perspective

First, the absence of commitment by the Taliban has been vivid. Till now the Taliban has not violated any measures signed in the peace deal, but the continuous refusal to negotiate and attacks on the Afghan security forces raise doubt over the Taliban’s commitments in maintaining a peaceful negotiation. Both the Taliban and the Afghan government seem underprepared and lack the trust in bringing out a common ground to negotiate.

Second, the report concludes by weighing on the actions of the Taliban since the US-Taliban deal and charts out the possibility of fruitful intra-Afghan talks. Truly, there is an ambiguity surrounding, Taliban’s intention in the wake of continuous attacks in the region. However, little is lost, in making an attempt to test the Taliban’s potential to negotiate. It also suggests that the rapprochement with a common goal is vital to bring stability in the country.

Third, the central argument in the report solely revolves around the Taliban’s position but is less focused on how the Taliban will function in a power-sharing model within the existing structure, social norms, and institutions of Afghanistan. 

Last, even if the Taliban leadership successfully negotiates with the Afghan government, the hardline factions in the Taliban may disagree and defect to other extremists’ groups.

Though the report highlights the need for patience in making the deal a success, with the rising attacks on Afghan security forces, it is likely the government will step back from the negotiations. 

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