The recent US-Taliban agreement is unlikely to lead to early stabilisation in Afghanistan. Most probably, it will introduce the next stage in the intra-Afghan conflict, the ultimate results of which we cannot predict, writes Mikhail Konarovsky, Ambassador Extraordniary and Plenipotentiary, senior fellow with the MGIMO University Institute for International Studies.
The recent agreement between the United States and the Taliban has not yet led either to an easing of tensions in Afghanistan or to the real launch of a negotiating process. All of this can be interpreted as the failure of the US-Taliban deal.
Americans are evidently concerned by the fact that at this crucial moment, the government in Kabul has continued to demonstrate its internal weakness, which debilitates it even more vis-à-vis the Taliban. The disagreement within Kabul’s ruling elite threatens to evolve into a diarchy or, rather, polyarchy in the country. The recent simultaneous inauguration in Kabul of two presidential contenders – Ashraf Ghani, who won a dubious victory, and Abdullah Abdullah, the former number two man in the Afghan government, who refused to recognise the results of the vote – has demonstrated that the political situation in the country is in a deadlock.
It is quite evident that before launching any negotiations with the Taliban, both contenders will need to reach a consensus, including with respect to the composition of their group of negotiators. However, forming it could take some time, and the Americans may again end up being negotiators between Ghani and Abdullah: a similar situation transpired following the no-less dubious presidential election in Afghanistan in 2014. At the same time, Washington needs, at least, to formally launch the negotiations process, which could take twists and turns. In particular, one cannot rule out behind-the-stage separate tactical agreements between the Taliban and part of the current Afghan elite, which are aimed at weakening of Kabul on the whole, etc.
Meanwhile, the Taliban, who take all these circumstances into account, do not push hard and are clearly going to strengthen their own positions in the country especially as the Americans are beginning to wind up their military presence.
Nevertheless, the Americans will hardly renege on their support of Ghani even though they understand the complexity of the general situation in Afghanistan and of the Kabul-Taliban negotiations. Despite all the disagreements with Washington, he remains its most loyal ally in the country.
Even if the Americans have any considerations on this issue, there is no real alternative to the current president of Afghanistan, who can unite the traditionally divided local elite. Such an option is highly unlikely to appear shortly. Moreover, such a turn of events would lead to a further weakening of all the current political opponents of the Taliban. It will also strengthen their ability to seize on their terms.
At the same time, we have to take into account that there is no complete solidity in the ranks of the Taliban themselves. So far, their relative unity has been grounded in a general hostility towards the central authorities and the presence of foreign troops on Afghan territory. As the provisions of the agreements between Taliban leadership and the US are implemented, many field commanders may try to strengthen their positions by joining tactical coalitions both among themselves and with local officers, who do not like Kabul’s official line. ISIS militants located in the country will be involved in this process.
The situation in Afghanistan may repeat the events of 1992, when the Mujahideen forcibly displaced President Najibullah. Their seizure of power in Kabul immediately caused the beginning of a bloody inter-factional struggle between the former allies. As a result, the recently-created Taliban movement seized Kabul in 1996.The recent US-Taliban agreement is unlikely to lead to early stabilisation in Afghanistan. Most probably, it will introduce the next stage in the intra-Afghan conflict, the ultimate results of which we cannot predict. In this regard, the main task of the external forces and the entire international community must be to prevent another phase of open internal armed confrontation in Afghanistan, while understanding that achieving stability throughout the country is highly unlikely.