The U.S.-Taliban Agreement: Contents and Issues

On February 29th, the United States of America and the Taliban have signed an agreement to start a political process to put an end to the Afghanistan conflict. Negotiations lasted for nearly a year and a half and were conducted in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban faction established a political office. In September 2019, the Americans and the Taliban were close to reaching an agreement, but the killing of a U.S. soldier caused by a terroristic attack made the agreement fail. President Donald Trump cancelled the meeting with the Taliban leaders in Camp David and deemed the dialogue dead. The negotiations appeared to be definitively in a stalemate. Still, the bilateral talks secretly resumed in December 2019 and on February 22th, the parties announced the expected signing of the agreement.

The agreement sets a series of reciprocal conditions the implementation of which will achieve a definitive cease of hostilities and allow the reconciliation between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

The keystone of the agreement is the commitment of the Taliban not to use the Afghan ground for activities that threaten the United States or its allies. The Taliban movement shall also ensure that other military or terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda, will not use the Afghanistan soil for military purposes. This obligation entails that the Taliban militia will have to prevent any operations carried out in Afghanistan that could potentially pose a threat to the U.S. and its allies’ national security.

The peace agreement also calls for the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Taliban and the Kabul government to set a political roadmap for the country and a definitive cessation of the hostilities. At the same time, the United States will start the military disengagement withdrawing a part of its forces and evacuating some of its bases within 135 days from the sign of the deal. Furthermore, Washington D.C. will start the procedure to remove the sanctions and restrictions against the whole Taliban faction and the single members. The Americans will also act through the Security Council to remove the international sanctions adopted by the United Nations. Additionally, the peace agreement calls the United States of America, the Kabul authorities and the Taliban to begin a prisoner exchange. Finally, the American-led coalition commits to a total withdrawal if the Taliban fulfil the obligation concerning the “neutrality” of the Afghanistan territory.

The Doha deal sets a tight timeline within which to achieve the disengagement of the allied forces. Such timetable demonstrates the White House’s haste to close the Afghanistan case with a view to the presidential elections. At the same time, the commitments concerning the intra-dialogue between the Afghanistan factions proves Washington’s awareness of the necessity of an intern pacification to ensure the stability of the country. Indeed, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan without any guarantee for the Afghan government would inevitably mean the continuation of the war and an eventual fall of Kabul. The U.S. seems to have learned from the lesson of the fall of Saigon, which was left defenceless against North Vietnam forces. The Americans have felt obliged to endorse a political reconciliation between the Afghan factions considering that the Kabul authorities were not involved in the peace talks. The Afghan government has always complained about its exclusion from the Doha negotiations as the Taliban have refused to start peace talks with Kabul authorities considering them as a puppet government controlled by Washington and the Americans. Finally, the provision concerning the intra-Afghan dialogue is also a matter of reputation. Washington cannot abandon a country after 19 years of war and occupation without safeguards for the future.

The international community has welcomed the Doha deal as an important step towards peace. However, it is important to remember that this agreement does not entail the immediate cessation of hostilities. In fact, the described political process will be implemented with the hostilities still raging. It is therefore clear that the prosecution of war could inevitably influence the peace process and eventually make it fail.

The enactment of the Doha deal represents another important matter. Many political analysts have expressed concerns about the acceptance of the peace agreement by all the Taliban forces. The Taliban movement, which is divided into different factions depending on geography and ideology, is a heterogeneous organization where there is no a rigid hierarchy. Some Taliban groups are more radical and have always criticized the Doha talks, refusing to join the negotiations, while others are closer to Al- Qaeda. This fragmentation may be considered the principle threat to the implementation of the deal and the fulfilment of the peace process.

The Kabul-Taliban dialogue raises other issues regarding the future institutional framework of Afghanistan and its immature and weak democratic structure. In this context, it is questionable whether the Taliban will be able to accept the representative democracy, constitution, integration and power sharing. According to some rumours, the recognition of a large autonomy within the controlled areas might be the solution. The same goes for the new constitution of Afghanistan (adopted in 2004) which recognizes and protects women’s roles in the country. Will the Taliban accept this fundamental act and the provisions concerning social and political rights? Moreover, how the Kabul government will deal with the drug smuggling of the Taliban? Finally, further concerns arise from the lack of control on the implementation performed by any international organization, including the United Nations and its agencies.

Mistrust and reciprocal accusations characterized the initial phase of the peace process. The Kabul government and the Taliban have accused each other of having breached the Doha deal conditions. The prisoners exchange has been considerably delayed and, at the same time, the Pentagon has not yet provided a withdrawal plan. These issues make alignment difficult, as well as near impossible to imagine what Afghanistan will look like once the war is over. The Taliban groups seem actually to be too incompatible with the new Afghan constitution the implementation of which has been difficult and far from being completely accepted in the Afghan conservative society, where the memory of the old regime and radical Islam is still alive.