Conflict Alerts # 95, 27 May 2020
In the news
Last week witnessed three significant developments in Afghanistan at three different levels, but all are linked with each other. The success in one is directly and indirectly linked with the outcomes of the other two developments.
In Kabul, President Ghani agreed to share power with his main rival – Abdullah Abdullah, who rejected the result of the previous election held in Afghanistan in 2019. According to the terms of the agreement between the two, Abdullah will lead the negotiations with the Taliban and will have a say in the appointment of crucial appointments in the government.
Outside Kabul, the Taliban has announced a three days ceasefire in the eve of the Eid, which was reciprocated by the government.
Outside Afghanistan, in the US, President Trump has asked the Pentagon to prepare a for a withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan during the course of 2020 itself.
Issues at large
There are multiple issues relating to the above three developments.
First is the Kabul consensus. After a bitter fight during and after the Presidential elections, the political polarization between the two rival leaders - Ghani and Abdullah was threatening the stability in Kabul, and also the larger plans that the US have planned for – in terms of an intra-Afghan dialogue, leading towards facilitating the American withdrawal.
Second, the American pressure over Kabul. The US should have pressurized both the leaders to come to a consensus. On their own, they would not have reached any compromise. It was President Ghani who should have yielded more than Abdullah.
Third, the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban. There is adequate data to prove that the Taliban increased its attacks on the government troops, after signing a deal with the US in Doha in February 2020. Though the Taliban did not target the American troops, it continued its violence against the government troops and innocent civilians.
The American should have pressurized the Taliban also to announce the ceasefire. After the attack on the maternity clinic in Kabul two weeks earlier, which killed mothers, pregnant women and babies, there was visible anger against the Taliban and also the US. Though the US tried to divert the attention by blaming it on the Islamic State in Afghanistan (which could have been true), there was also a public pressure on the Taliban. On its own, the Taliban would not have agreed for a ceasefire.
Fourth is the order from Trump to Pentagon to prepare a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. Though the US-Taliban deal envisages the American withdrawal at a later date, Trump wants to bring the American troops back to the US before the next Presidential elections. For him, winning the election in the US is more important than long term peace in Afghanistan.
Three questions on those three developments last week. Will the Kabul consensus hold? Will the Taliban extend its ceasefire and stop targeting government troops and innocent civilians? Will the American withdraw completely?
The first may hold. Both Ghani and Abdullah will look at political expediency, resulting in an unstable, but a functional arrangement. The second may not. Taliban would look for another pretext to start the violence. The third would take place, perhaps in phases. However, the US would leave a residue force in Afghanistan. It provides the US with physical proximity to watch Iran and Pakistan.
D Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) He heads the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme at NIAS.