Imtiaz Rafi Butt
ON 29 February 2020, the U.S Government through their special envoy Mr. ZalmayKhalilzad signed a first of its kind, peace agreement with the senior most leadership under Mullah Abdul Ghani of Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar in the presence of diplomats from Pakistan, India, Turkey and others. This outcome has been achieved through a convoluted blend of socio-political forces in Afghanistan and the United States of America. The greatest military might of the world has had to seek assistance in achieving a ceasefire with a few hundred tribal fighters. Not only is this momentous, but also marks a series of moral lessons for rich and poor countries of the globe. The Afghan invasion began in 2001, after the killing of around 2000 US soldiers and near 150,000 Afghans, table negotiations came to the rescue. Although, the future path of the agreement is yet to be determined, the die has been cast. Summarizing the context of the agreement signed in Doha between the US Government and the Taliban, there are four major points of the deal, and they are as follows: (i)Withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan within a period of 14 months (ii) Afghan soil will not be used to threaten US security by the Taliban (iii) Intra-Afghan dialogue is to follow as part of the peace process (iv) There will be a complete ceasefire and end to hostilities.
No matter what socio-political perspective is adopted, the above points clearly lean towards the Taliban. No wonder, this agreement is being hailed as a supreme victory and a signing of surrender of the enemy by the Taliban leadership, rightly so, as none of the demands that gave rise to the Afghan invasion have been achieved. Al-Qaeda is still present in the region, the Taliban continue to implement their strict version of Islamic Sharia law and their way of life is unwavering. In just 2019, there were more than 8000 killings at the hands of Taliban. In every sense of the word, these local tribal fighters who lost the direct confrontation in 2001 have stood their ground and weakened the might of the U.S military, even if it took 19 years to do it. In the words of a Taliban leader, “we have paved the way to end the occupation of Afghanistan by foreign troops”.
In other words, Taliban have managed to force the American troops to leave Afghanistan on their own accord, as they did with the Russian troops three decades ago. Like before, apart from military casualties, nothing has changed for the Taliban and the enemy has been forced to retreat without any major achievement. The terrain, the tribal culture and the local will has prevailed over lofty Western ideals thought to be universal in nature. The third point of the agreement refers to negotiations that are to follow with the present Afghan Government. The Taliban even after the agreement refer to the Government as, “a puppet regime”. This is a significant feature of the agreement which will play out in the coming months. As of now, the Taliban control more area in Afghanistan than they did ever before. This was the longest war that the Americans have fought in their entire history, and apparently they have lost it while saving face. The Afghan Government is set to face the onslaught of Taliban negotiations which are on their way and it is to be done with a handicap.
The US Government agenda on the agreement has been outstandingly vivid, simply said, it is enough, time to pull out. As of today, there are 14000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan and over 30,000 NATO allied troops who have failed to achieve their military objectives over two decades. 2019 proved to be the bloodiest year for them all. According to an independent estimate, the US Government has spent over two trillion dollars on their invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, that’s over ten times the GDP of the whole of Afghanistan. Militancy, insurgency, extremism and the Taliban way of life have not been altered in any way. This fact was known to the US authorities but there was no excuse or public stance to pull out. That excuse came with the slogan from the Trump Administration, to bring the troops back home. One of the most popular campaign slogans for the Republicans was to end the war and bring relief to the families of troops stationed abroad. This stance reverberated with American states which contributed significantly to the American army. As the 2020 election closes in, implementing the campaign slogan to gain support and votes was the final push that was needed to expedite a peace agreement with the Taliban.
But there are opposing voices in the United States. Officials from the CIA and the Senate have raised objections to the U.S-Taliban agreement. They say Trump has surrendered what was achieved in the past 18 years. In their view, it is a disgrace to the soldiers who lost their lives to give a chance to democracy and peace in Afghanistan. It is clearly possible that the Taliban in the coming years, will be in full control of Afghanistan, and all will be as it was, or even worse than it was in 2001. This peace agreement brings back memories from 1971, the end of the Vietnam War. Overall, this is the third war that the Americans have lost, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. All three military campaigns failed to achieve their objectives in the long run. When the last troop leaves Afghanistan, nothing will have changed; a lesson for future military expeditions.
The world leaders also gave a mixed response to the U.S-Taliban agreement. Most of the Western countries have praised the deal as a sign of hope and an end to hostilities while the United Nations have stressed the need to make it sustainable and inclusive. The version from Pakistan Government and Imran Khan has been termed, most pragmatic. On multiple occasions, Pakistan has stressed in International forums that the Taliban are a political reality and there is no military solution to the Afghan scenario. Long lasting peace can never be achieved through armaments and military technology. In the end, it is not the economic prowess or the ability to destroy, but the ability to understand and co-operate that can bring about positive change that can promote harmony for all partners. War brings inconceivable hardships and losses of life, property and dignity, how many more disasters are needed to realize this repetitive fact? How much more suffering has to be endured by poor and destitute people from around the world before humanity comes to terms with the fact that fire can’t be put out with another fire, you need water for that. With a heavy heart, it can be hoped that the coming months will bring much needed peace and reason to smile for the people of Afghanistan. After four decades of warfare at the hands of two superpowers of the world, it is what is owed to the people of Afghanistan, at the very least.
—The writer is Chairman, Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.