Conflict Irresolution: U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal


Cristina Cabrejas-Artola – TRANSCEND Media Service

23 Apr 2020 – The determining factors of any successful agreement depends on the self-assurance of the parties involved or, at least, one of the parties must be ready to ‘cut its losses’ and accept a compromise.

The latter seems to have been the case of the U.S. government negotiating with the Taliban after eighteen years of intensive armed conflict in Afghan soil.

At the request of the Taliban, the negotiations could only proceed if the presence of Kabul’s democratic administration was denied. A demand based on the insurgent movement remaining firmly about the future of Afghanistan as an Islamic emirate, ruled by the provisions of the Sharia law and under the leadership of an Islamic religious leader.

On February 29th, U.S. envoy for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, ex-U.S. ambassador to UN, Afghanistan and Iraq, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Barada, leader of the Taliban delegation and advocate for peace talks, met in Doha to convene the first confidence building agreement.

The outcome was a package deal of trading concessions, drafted in three and a half pages as the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”. A significant breakthrough, yet the major goals of either party were overlooked and the opportunity for bargaining core issues such as governing institutions, disarming, national security, and women’s rights were altogether dismissed. Without any substantial compromise on either side, the agreement looks more like a symbolic conformity rather than a sound preliminary peace-making settlement.

In the first round of concessions the U.S. agreed to withdraw, together with its allies, all military forces including the entirety of their supporting personnel and non-diplomatic civilians within 9.5 months. A déjà vu experience when they Soviet Union pulled its troops out of Afghanistan in desolate defeat. The Taliban regained full control of their country and, soon after, the whole Soviet empire collapsed.

Forty years later the lessons of history appear distant and almost forgotten. A gradual withdrawal of foreign military forces is assumed to lead to intra-Afghan negotiations. But, contrary to this assumption, it is more likely that the Afghan government will become even more vulnerable to political and military pressure of the Taliban as it already controls eighteen per cent of the country, with an estimate of sixty thousand full time fighters unrelenting the attacks to Afghan security bases.

Moreover, the Taliban main source of income accounts for almost eighty per cent of the world opium trade, a lucrative source of revenue. By contrast, the Afghan government depends on foreign donations as it has been unable to turn a stagnant economy for decades.

If intra-Afghan negotiations are to take place on a level playing field, it will depend on the ability to boost the state economy. Until such time, the Afghan government will be in a precarious position to start negotiations with an increasingly strong opponent.

Add to this concession and without the consent of the Afghan government, the U.S. committed to the release of five thousand combat and political Taliban prisoners in exchange of one thousand Afghan prisoners before March 10th.

It was unsurprising to learn that President Ashraf Ghani was unable to conform to the prisoners swap allegedly for logistic reasons. Eventually, the release of 1,500 prisoners was agreed overruling the Taliban demand on who was to be released first, which was omitted in the agreement.

Thus, the first confidence-building agreement between the U.S and the Taliban becomes null and void.

As per a “permanent and comprehensive” ceasefire, a clause that is always the first requisite in every peace deal, it shall nonetheless, “be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.” In other words, until the intra-Afghan discussions take place military attacks to Afghan bases can and, indeed, have continued without showing any signs of deescalating, not even during the holy month of Ramadan which starts today.

And whilst depriving a ceasefire top priority in a peace agreement, the prevalence has been given to end terrorists’ affiliations, such as Al-Qaida, and terrorist threats to the security of the United States and its allies. An indication that if foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan a new wave of terrorist attacks is likely to re-emerge.

Based on the way in which the negotiations were conducted, without the presence of an Afghan democratic government representation, and the dangerous consequences of the concessions agreed upon, it is difficult to ignore the Taliban’s act of international defiance.

The formal U.S.-Taliban agreement, which was to end two decades of war and lead Afghanistan to the road of a peace process, has if anything, served as the Taliban’s stage to display their fighting resilience and strong political power.

At a time when the international community had high hopes for conflict resolution and a first glimpse of peace victory, all is left is an agreement of conflict irresolution and defeat.


Cristina Cabrejas-Artola is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. She holds a Master’s degree in International Relations by Middlesex University in Dubai. Her career priorities include engaging in community programs and improving the Arab identity through sports and cultural events. She previously served as a business conflict mediator in the Middle East.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Apr 2020.

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