Taliban-US Deal: What Next?

On February 29, the US and the Taliban signed a ceasefire agreement after a long and hopeless war in Afghanistan which lasted more than 18 years, cost soldiers their lives and required a constant inflow of money. The main winner is Donald Trump, writes Alexei Kupriyanov, Researcher of the Sector of International Organisations and Global Political Regulation of the Department of International Political Problems, IMEMO RAS.

On the one hand, the ceasefire agreement signed by the Taliban and the United States looks extremely unstable: neither side has exhausted its resources and neither is on the verge of defeat; both gain regular victories and deliver sensitive blows to each other and their respective allies. On the other hand, the truce and the agreement on the gradual withdrawal of troops will allow both sides to resolve a number of political tasks.

The Taliban are in fact legitimised as a party to the conflict, having received recognition from a superpower. What is currently known about the terms of the deal allows them to declare victory. In addition, in the event of a real withdrawal of American troops, compliance with the terms of the peace agreement will remain entirely on the Taliban's own head: it is obvious that there will not be another American intervention.

Hamid Karzai for Valdai: No Full US Withdrawal From Afghanistan Should Be Expected Soon
Hamid Karzai
The best solution for Afghanistan is to reach a negotiated political settlement with the support of regional countries and international partners: an agreement that is acceptable to all parties involved and that ensures a responsible withdrawal of foreign forces. Full withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan is undesirable, as it will not benefit the nation itself, its neighbours, or the United States, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told valdaiclub.com in an exclusive interview.
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The United States, for its part, is ending a long and hopeless war that has cost the lives of soldiers and required a constant inflow of money. The main winner is Donald Trump, who demonstrates that he is fulfilling his election campaign promises. At the same time, it is not clear whether a full withdrawal of troops will take place or whether its schedule will be observed: there are too many forces both on the Afghan and American sides. Many are dissatisfied with the terms of the ceasefire, including the Kabul government, a number of Taliban field commanders and independent factions, politicians and military, whose career is associated with the continuation of the Afghan campaign. So in the future, both the schedule for the withdrawal of troops and the very nature of the withdrawal may change.

In the event that a withdrawal does occur, the future of Afghanistan will depend on the final terms of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban. If foreign troops leave Afghanistan completely, the time that the Kabul regime will hold on to power will depend solely on the amount of funds and weapons transferred to it. If the United States, under an agreement with the Taliban, maintains a presence in Afghanistan in the form of, for example, well-fortified support bases, where special forces, airplanes and helicopters will be permanently located, then the regime change will happen more smoothly. In any case, sometime after the completion of the withdrawal of troops, the Kabul government will cease to exist in its present form, and the Taliban will occupy key posts in the leadership of the new Afghanistan. It is possible that the United States could reach an agreement with the Taliban on certain guarantees that democratic procedures be formally observed, that the leaders of the former regime be immune to prosecution, etc., in exchange for assistance in the fight against the “absolute evil”: the Islamic State .

This poses a number of problems for the neighbouring countries, and decisions will again depend on whether the Americans leave completely or only leave their bases, and if they do this, on what terms. The option of “a joint government where the Taliban holds key positions and is fighting ISIS in Afghanistan” seems to be acceptable for the Americans; but in this case, to a certain extent, a US-loyal state will appear in the centre of Eurasia, which is unsuitable for Russia and China. The option of “complete US withdrawal, collapse of the regime and the seizure of power by the Taliban” is equally dangerous for neighbours, since in the near future a new round of civil war will obviously begin in Afghanistan, which will be waged against the Taliban by field commanders who now support the Kabul government. In both cases, a group of those dissatisfied with the Taliban regime will appear; which must be regarded as a promising force capable of destabilising the situation in the new Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan will definitely remain. The country’s economy now relies mainly on traditional commodity ties and drug production, and it is unlikely that the economy will be restored in the coming years. Attempts to stop the transportation of drugs will aggravate relations with their producers and further destabilise the situation near the Afghan borders.
Trump Is Resetting Talks With the Taliban
Rustam Makhmudov
The United States, the Taliban and Kabul will have to find a mutually beneficial formula that would primarily remove the sides’ distrust towards each other and solve the problem of their divergent strategic interests. This is, without a doubt, a most difficult dilemma and the effort to solve it is likely to emerge as one of the key Afghan political issues in 2020.        

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