Has the US – Taliban Peace Agreement Died?

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         By Sajjad Shaukat Pak VT

Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive and Chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah Abdullah arrived in Pakistan on September 28, this year for a three-day visit during which he met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

In the joint conference, with Foreign Minister Qureshi, Abdullah Abdullah said that Afghanistan will never allow its soil to be used by extremist forces, posing a threat to any other nation—the start of intra-Afghan talks between Kabul and the Taliban was an important opportunity, as it offered the “best hope “to the war behind us…Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing several shared serious threats and challenges, including terrorism, extremism…COVID-19…There is great scope for cooperation.”

Foreign Minister Quereshi assured Afghanistan that Pakistan completely supported its peace initiative, adding that Islamabad wanted to be “friends not masters with the neighboring nation…the new realization and recognition if we have to coexist in peace and build a common future…our security and stability is interlinked…a political settlement is the only solution to the Afghan conflict”.

However, these statements were part of optimism regarding the peace process in Afghanistan and Afghan ruler Abdullah’s double game.

In this connection, the Afghan government and the Taliban finally held in Doha-the capital of Qatar on September 12, this year—Among others, the key speakers at the event included Abdullah Abdullah, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while the Foreign Minister Quereshi addressed the event through video link to bring the NATO’s prolonged war in Afghanistan to an end. But, it produced no results. So, some new developments has raised the question, has the US-Taliban Peace Agreement Dead?

In this regard, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy for Afghanistan, has predicted on September 25, 2020 that the Taliban will not accept a permanent truce until a political deal is reached with the Afghan government.

In the negotiations in Doha, the two sides have so far have spent more than a week deciding agendas and the manner in which the two sides will be conducting the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Taliban allegedly said that Afghan government have killed 65 Taliban militants during a battle in the nation’s eastern provinces as fighting continued to rage between the two sides, while they were holding peace talks.

While, Afghan government claimed that the latest battle took place on September 23, this year after the Taliban fighters stormed a military headquarters building in the Wazi Khwa district of Paktika Province.

In the recent past, Abdullah Abdullah allegedly stated that a number of Taliban prisoners who were released by the Afghan government as a condition for peace talks have returned to the battlefield.  He also said that negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar have been positive. However, it shows contradictory approach of the Afghan ruler.

In this respect, at a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Zalmay Khalilzad warned on September 22, 2020 that violence in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high and Washington expects more setbacks in ongoing peace talks between Taliban militants and the Afghan government to end two decades of war.

He added, “We are under no illusions about the challenges ahead…We expect that there will be obstacles…Since the talks opened in Qatar on September 12, the two sides reportedly remain far from agreement on virtually every issue.

Notably, Mr. Khalilzad stated that the decision on Afghan peace talks in Doha will be made after the US elections in November, explaining:  “I’m hoping that the negotiations will make some progress, but a decision will have to be made after elections as to what happens”.

The talks followed the US and the Taliban agreement, signed on February 29, 2020 for bringing peace to Afghanistan. Through the agreement the US and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months, while the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control. US also agreed to reduce its troops in the country from about 12,000 to 8,600.

The deal also called for the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of direct talks. But, Afghan rulers were using delaying tactics in this respect. So, the full withdrawal of American/NATO troops was a central Taliban purpose.

But, less than 24 hours after the US-Taliban agreement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rejected prisoner swap with Taliban and refused to release the Taliban prisoners.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed stated that the Taliban group was living up to its side of the agreement, and that it was willing to negotiate a countrywide cease-fire, including intra-Afghan talks, which had to begin within 10 days of the February 29 deal, but were still on hold because of the political bickering in Kabul.

Nevertheless, due to American pressure, Ghani had started releasing Taliban detainees. The Taliban had also freed many prisoners.

And in response to the air attacks by the Afghan government and the US, the Taliban have carried out almost 2,808 terror assaults. However, Taliban have not attacked the US or NATO troops, as they already stated. But, main purpose the attacks of the US-led Afghan regime were to create an obstacle in implementation of the US-Taliban deal.

Afghan President Ghani has used various pretexts and delaying tactics in completion of the US-Taliban agreement, including release of the Taliban prisoners. Sometimes, he availed the opportunity of coronavirus pandemic and sometimes, he refused to set free those Taliban, allegedly saying that they had been involved in human crimes.

It is regrettable that on the direction of India, in the recent past, Afghan President Ghani accused Pakistan for terror attacks in Afghanistan.

Showing dual policy, recently, Abdullah Abdullah called on America to ask Pakistan, which allegedly maintains ties to the militants, to pressure Taliban to agree to a cease-fire.

In fact, New Delhi and Kabul which want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are manipulating the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.

Afghan rulers think that in case, the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, their regime will fall like a house of cards owing to the attacks of the Taliban. Even, India would not be in a position to maintain its billions of dollars investments and secret network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban. So, both the countries want NATO’s permanent entanglement in the Afghan conflict.

Regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”

Besides, the US-Taliban peace deal is likely to render Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It will suit Indian designs, if Afghanistan does not move towards peace and, instead, keeps simmering.

In this context, reliable sources as mentioned in Pakistan’s media on August 18, 2020 disclosed that the Afghanistan based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has merged with its splinter groups Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) in Afghanistan. Their sole objective is to restart terrorist activity in Pakistan, while simultaneously sabotaging efforts to restore peace and stability in its war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW played a key role in their reunification. The agreement, reportedly, designated Mufti Noor Wali as the amir (Chief) of TTP, making him responsible for all planned terrorist activities inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long accused Kabul of turning a blind eye toward TTP and other terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to escape counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan.

According to the UN report of July 26, 2020, “The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) continue to target Pakistan from their bases in Afghanistan…the significant presence of ISIL-K (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan) in Afghanistan”, which the UN warns “now pursues a global agenda”.

The UN report warns of “a strong presence of ISIL-India in Kerala and Karnataka. ISIL-K considers Afghan territory a base for spreading terrorist influence across the wider region…The investigators found links between Indian nationals and terrorist attacks in Sri-Lank”.

Taking cognizance of the present drastic situation, in his article published in The Washington Post September 26, 2020,

Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned against “hasty withdrawal of foreign powers from Afghanistan” and also cautioned that “regional spoilers could use instability in the worn-torn country for their own vested interests…no people have paid a higher price for the conflict in Afghanistan than the people of Pakistan…peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside…Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, which recognises Afghanistan’s political realities and diversity, could produce a lasting peace…Pakistan continued to be the target of attacks launched by externally enabled terrorist groups based in Afghanistan…these terrorist groups pose a clear and present danger to global peace”.

Foreign Minister Qureshi met Zalmay Khalilzad at Islamabad on July 1, 2020. After the meeting, Qureshi stated that,

“Pakistan is ready to cooperate with regional and international stakeholders for enduring and peaceful political solution to the Afghan issue…the development of whole region depends on establishment of peace in Afghanistan…India has been continuously trying to destabilize Pakistan to divert attention from its internal chaos…India is interfering in Balochistan province of Pakistan at the same time it is also adversely affecting peace efforts in Afghanistan.”

Zalmay Khalilzad who, repeatedly, visited Pakistan and met country’s civil and military leadership admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue. It was due to Pakistan’s key role in Doha that on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban signed the historical agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Now, coronavirus pandemic which has affected almost every country has also enveloped Afghanistan.  The US has almost 7,406, 146 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the death toll of more than 210,750 people.

Moreover, America is not taking much interest in implementation of the US-Taliban agreement, due to the election-campaign and in wake of the unending violent protests across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on May 25, 2020 in police custody in Minneapolis. During clashes, the police killed several black people.

By availing this golden opportunity, Afghan rulers may create complications which could castigate the US-Taliban deal. In these terms, question arises, has the US-Taliban Peace Agreement dead?

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

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