Path to Peace

Afghanistan cannot be said to be out of the woods yet though it was the outgoing
American president who initiated peace talks with the Taliban.

By Amjad Ali Siyal | December 2020


When elections in the US were on the horizon, many analysts expressed scepticism that the hard-earned efforts to bring about peace in war-torn Afghanistan may come to an end, particularly if President Trump was out of the White House. During the presidential speeches, there was hardly any debate on Afghan peace process. Nevertheless, a state’s policies are dictated by its national interests rather than the change of guard. Now that the Democratic candidate Joe Biden has won the race, there is every likelihood of the continuity of the process, though it may face temporary hiccups.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then candidate Donald Trump espoused the policy of ‘America First’. When he was about to kick off his campaign for his second tenure, he initiated the Afghan peace process in order to tell his voters that he had fulfilled his promise to bring back the troops from Afghanistan and that no American soldier would bleed on foreign soil.

Consequently, on 29 February 2020, an agreement, after arduous negotiations between the Taliban and the US, was signed in Doha that paved the way for more complex intra-Afghan negotiations. The US-Taliban agreement contained a timeline for US troops’ withdrawal as well as guarantees from the Taliban for severance of ties with foreign fighters and reduction of violence. Additionally, prisoner swap was to take place between the Taliban and the Kabul administration that would have set in motion intra-Afghan negotiations.

The intra-Afghan negotiations were delayed due to the pandemic and were compounded by the feud between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Political commentators expressed concerns that with the change of guard in the White House, the process may end up in a fiasco. Additionally, the spoilers were also likely to hatch more conspiracies.

During the presidential debates, neither of the presidential candidates talked much about the Afghan endgame. Nevertheless, there is every likelihood now that the policy of president-elect Joe Biden will be no different than that of President Trump for many reasons. Firstly, it is in the US interest to pull out the troops as agreed in the Doha agreement. Secondly, owing to the recessionary trend faced by their economy, the US national interests dictate troops’ withdrawal from Afghan soil, since the US has invested more than two trillion dollars and around 2,500 US servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan, yet military options have not produced any solution. Thirdly, these negotiations will also provide a dignified exit to the sole super power. Moreover, it is a rare chance for all the stakeholders to sit together at the table because such a missed opportunity would result in further chaos in the region. Additionally, the successful intra-Afghan negotiations will also help in eliminating the foreign fighters as well as the Islamic State (IS) terrorists. Hence, it is in the interest of all the stakeholders to seize the opportunity.

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