Despite the direct talks between Taliban and the US, the Russian peace efforts are establishing “new channels” of communication, which in turn will help setting the framework of a regional solution to Afghan problem. Taliban’s reaffirmation to continue to commit for a peaceful solution is very clearly attached to several conditions including direct talks with the Afghan government and withdrawal of all foreign forces. The ensuing analysis of this idea also suggests that a firm commitment from present Afghan government is crucial to materialize any mechanism for peace.
However, it is still unclear as to how and when US is going to withdraw its troops. If it is about a tangible framework, and whether a gradual withdrawal plan has already been considered, remains to be confirmed by the US and Afghan governments. At the operational level, what will be the status of the military bases of Bagram and Shindand which the US spent billions to rebuild with all modern state-of-the-art-facilities? Whereas optimism exists after Taliban’s direct engagement with the US, an environment of uncertainty also exists due to the past “broken promises”. But calling unanimously to “pulling out of foreign forces” from Afghanistan is an indication and desire for peace by Taliban and Afghan political leadership. The Afghan government has yet to commit to this proposal.
The other aspect of the potential US withdrawal is regarding the impact of American presence in Afghanistan, because the general notion is that the US sociopolitical manifestation has fractured the basic tribal structures and evaporated the conventional methods of societal conflict resolution. Most importantly, the American presence in Afghanistan has seriously divided the country: northerners (Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara), and Pashtuns.
An assessment of the repercussions of US presence covers a wide social and political spectrum. The society has become ever more polarized. As a result, ethnic and linguistic division increased. Due to bad governance and rampant corruption, the internal revenue, mostly pocketed by corrupts, is insufficient to pay for the administrative cost of bureaucracy. Warlords return with a recipe to further enrich themselves with illegal money and recruitment of mercenaries to conduct illegal activities including drug smuggling. Consequently, heroin and poppy cultivation has assumed monstrosity. This trend has encouraged the mushroom growth of artificial elitism. Ostensibly, everything is dependent upon foreign money and a culture of dependency has risen to heights. The ensuing impact analysis of the US presence reflects that the system imposed from above is corrupt, and virtually render no substantial support to the ordinary Afghans.
Nevertheless, if one assesses the positive side, some of the social and political changes brought by international community are genuinely serving Afghan society. Establishing educational facilities both for girls and has given access to the millions. For higher education, many schools and universities have established in all the provinces of the country. Private schools and universities have also become functional. In the state-funded institutions, education is free of cost like it always was. On the health side, with the help of international and regional donors, facilities have also been erected, and the ongoing improvement and the expectation of a peaceful end of the conflict may help grow the number public and private hospitals. One of the positive indicators of change is related to the conditions of women, their rights, their participation in public life and their election to parliament. Infrastructure development has taken place including roads, modern shopping malls and residential buildings built in almost every city. The telecommunication sector too witnessed investments, and facilities have been built, but the agriculture sector received only slim attention.
In the backdrop of negotiating a permanent peace, it is crucial to beg the principal question: whether the Taliban and the US will keep the promise. Under the circumstance, one logical answer is that Afghans have been tremendously suffering for 18 years and Taliban too faced heavy losses, so they may not break the covenant. Additionally, Taliban have reiterated that they have no plan to rule the whole Afghanistan, and that they have no outside agenda. Importantly, Taliban also needs to commit that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching pad to attack other countries at regional and international levels. They claim to have disassociated their links with foreign terrorist organizations. The US and NATO would want guarantees, It can be argued that these guarantors should consist of regional players, but other than the US experts. Taliban probably would regard foreign/regional monitors much more credible than the US.
Secondly, the US would demand ceasefire parallel to start of withdrawal. Taliban would or would not reluctantly agree as they fear that their strength lies in fight. To retain the rank and file of Taliban intact would be a problem for Taliban after ceasefire. They would stress on fighting until a clear withdrawal plan is delivered. Setting up a date, and withdrawing as per commitment might produce a tangible mechanism for peace.
Thirdly, Taliban could only be tempted to agree to intra-Afghan dialogue, if before May, a withdrawal process starts, especially encouraging Kabul to positively engage Taliban for an integrated plan to govern. Obviously, a transitional period and transitional authority would be needed. Will Taliban subscribe to such arrangement and would they agree to include in such scenario the known American-men in it? However, the head of their negotiating team, Mullah Beradar, is powerful personality and he can play constructive role.
From the Taliban perspective, they have gained momentum in the war, and that they are on the march to victory. Their writ runs in the countryside. The NATO HQ seems skeptical and not at ease with President Trump’s decision to leave Afghanistan without a guaranteed settlement and they have expressed their reservations to Pentagon. But Mr. Trump is acting on his own logic of pursuing his goal of ‘America first’, unlike his predecessors. President Ashraf Ghani’s government is also not happy but they have no other choice except to toe the line of their paymasters.
If the US/NATO troops withdrawal takes place without any ironclad guarantees, then not only Afghanistan but the whole region can descend to instability and chaos. The influx of ever more refugees to Pakistan and other regional countries can take place and create security problems.
To conclude, at the domestic front, ordinary Afghans optimism is there about the prospects of peace and they welcome the recent developments. Regionally, all countries’ especially Russia’s efforts for peace have been remarkable. The absence of the US/ NATO forces will create positive impact, and will open a new page in the history of this region. Giving a chance to regional economic and security cooperation will help build the capacity to jointly fight terrorist organizations. The chances for regional connectivity and prosperity will be much higher, and the regional cooperation in terms of curbing drug and human smuggling would be materialized.