In this article, the author has critically analysed the US-Taliban Peace Deal and has discussed the characteristics and effect of the deal on the lives of the people of Afghanistan.
As the entirety of the world busies itself is grappling with the ever-enlarging extent of the Corona pandemic, the recent reporting of attacks in Kunduz, Faryab and Badakshan provinces of northern Afghanistan (allegedly orchestrated by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (or Taliban)) places the terror raided state in the international scrutiny, once again raising questions regarding the development of peace, stability and terrorism in the landlocked country and the future of the recently signed US-Taliban Peace Agreement ‘politically’ hailed as a formal end to America’s longest war by the Trump administration, entered into by the USA shortly after the deadly 9/11 attacks, with the purpose of uprooting and destroying terrorism and its agencies.
NUANCES OF THE PEACE DEAL
After fulfillment of the pre-requisite of a ‘weeklong reduction in violence’, Special Representative Khalilzad signed the formal U.S.-Taliban agreement with Taliban deputy political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on February 29, 2020, in front of a number of international observers, including Secretary of State Pompeo, in Doha. A Joint Declaration with President Ghani was also entered into by the USA on the same day.
As part of the deal, the US is expected to draw down its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days (accompanied with a proportionate troop decrease by its Allies and Coalitions ) and withdraw all of its forces from the bases within 14 months including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and support services personnel.
The Taliban is expected not to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its Allies and deter other organisations (including al-Qaida) and its own members from cooperating with such organisations by preventing recruiting training, and fundraising and engaging with the Afghan government to arrive at an opportune future roadmap for the region’s well-being.
Part three of the Peace Deal jots down the release of up to 5000 prisoners belonging to the Taliban and 1000 from the ‘other side’ as a confidence-building measure with an active commitment by the USA, by 10th March (marking the first intra-afghan negotiation round).
There’s also mention of a US review to be undertaken in the latter part of 2020 after the commencement of intra-afghan dialogue for the removal of sanctions put on the Taliban and commitment undertaken by the USA to begin diplomatic proceedings in the UN Security Council for international sanction removals.
WHY THE PEACE DEAL IS A DEAD DUCK?
Exclusion of the Afghan Government
One of the most fundamental flaws in the Peace Deal can be attributed to the absence of the Afghan government from the talks especially when it bears recognition by USA (and other key international players) while the Taliban marks it as ‘puppets’ operating via internationally pulled ‘strings’. Thus, even when the Peace Deal mentions countlessly, USA’s stance of not recognising the Taliban as a State, it has unconsciously provided it a major stake in the Afghan peace process by giving in to its demand of not including the government as a signatory. Critics have termed this exclusion as ‘strikingly reminiscent of the Nixon administration’s deal with North Vietnam in 1973, which excluded the South Vietnam government’.
The ‘Prisoner Release’ Hitch
The Deal mandates agreement over a permanent cease-fire and a conducive power-sharing arrangement between the two factions. However, the problem lies in the language used as far as both the Peace Deal and the Joint Declaration are concerned.
Where the Peace Deal specifically mentions release of “up to” 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan forces held by the Taliban “will be released by March 10, 2020,” the Joint Declaration states that the Afghan government “will participate in a U.S.-facilitated discussion” with the Taliban on “the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides”, not mentioning a specific number of prisoners to be released or a time frame.
Ghani while maintaining that Kabul was not a signatory to the Peace Deal, remained open to the idea of a phased prisoner swap but refused to see it as a pre-requisite for dialogue commencement with the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman rejected any conditions-based prisoner release as “against the peace accord that we signed” and insisted that 5,000 prisoners be released before any intra-Afghan talks. The prisoner swap which was meant to be a ‘confidence-building’ measure turned into a handicap.
Officials later acquiesced to the release of 1,500 prisoners with the release of 100 prisoners at the end of March owing to the Corona crisis as long as the Taliban engages in talks and reduces violence. The deal was accepted by the Taliban over Skype calls, and its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated that 15 officials would later travel to Kabul for verifying the list of prisoners. As of 28th March, the Afghan Government is reported to have formed a 21 member negotiating team (consisting of 5 women) for talks with the Taliban heralded as an instrumental step in the right direction by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
What becomes of the ultimate outcome is to be seen but the flimsy and rushed nature of the ‘historic’ Peace Deal is highly apparent especially in the light of the prisoner swap which if not handled delicately and informatively could cart off the ‘bargaining chip’ from the ‘other side’ to that of Taliban which could ultimately become an essential cog in the wheel which plunges Afghanistan into darkness.
The Afghan Political Divide
The political tussle between the Ghani faction (belonging to the largest ethnic group-Pashtuns) and the Abdullah bastion (belonging to the 2nd largest group- Tajiks) does little to bolster the peace and stability in Afghanistan. Further complicating the situation is February 18, 2020, announcement of President Ghani’s victory in the September 2019 presidential election over Abdullah. Abdullah and his supporters rejected the narrow result as fraudulent with Abdullah now parading as a ‘self-appointed’ President. The US State Department even slashed $1 billion dollar aid when both parties refused to end the deadlock and form an inclusive government for the peace of Afghanistan.
It is important to note that the Taliban is predominantly Pashtun and thus any leeway extended by Ghani can cause an uproar with Abdullah at its helm, likely interpreting any progress as an ‘intra-Pashtun’ deal giving rise to a civil conflict in an already war-torn country battling with fragility. The Peace Deal has done nothing to man the boiling pot and boasts of no ‘auto-cut off switch’ to prevent spillage.
Whether the political stalemate in Kabul will simply confirm the Taliban’s view that, once foreign forces have withdrawn, the entire Afghan state will be at their mercy, remains to be seen.
The Taliban Record- Women and Ethno-Religious Violence
According to Afghan officials, the Taliban carried out at least 76 attacks across 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in the four days after the agreement was signed, a number of attacks similar to the weeks before the reduction in violence. “During the day, we fight coronavirus, at night our brothers, Taliban. In the morning, we hold meetings on coronavirus. In the afternoon, on security,” said Naqibullah Faiq (Governor of Faryab Province, which is an active zone of violence.) 
The Taliban is an orthodox group working almost entirely upon inflexible strict religious laws where womenfolk are banished from the public eye and discriminated on a daily basis. Reporting’s of the Islamic Emirate destroying schools and carrying out attacks on religious and ethnic minorities and killing them are rife. The Peace Deal is a mere three and a half page document and finds no reference to the Rule of Law, civil liberties or the Constitution of Afghanistan and women's acknowledgment. Assuming that the Taliban would want a similar token set during the intra-afghan talk wouldn’t be far-sightedness.
India isn’t an “ally” of the USA on paper, as the word finds mention in the Deal and has, therefore, a lot to lose by the addition of Taliban to its equation-already heavily burdened if it chooses to target the sub-continent. The Taliban-Islamabad facet also cannot be overlooked.
The deal bears no legitimate sanction on the Taliban except the promise of not using Afghan soil to perpetrate violence and hold talks with the government. On the other hand, the phased troop withdrawal amounting to almost no International presence (along with the prisoner swap) in the sensitive hinterland dealing with its own political divide, holds an astronomical capacity to off-set the delicate power balances in the region causing rippling effects across the world which would be far severe as economies spar with COVID-19.
The deal seems to have accomplished Trump’s Presidential Campaign hallmark of “bringing our soldiers home as rapidly as possible”, but sadly it did just that – theoretically, on paper. Real peace in Afghanistan has a long way to go and huge duty rests not only on the Afghan political faction but also on International powers including the USA to preserve and high tail the region’s development against the Taliban’s power thirst.
 Bruce Riedel, “The Mess In Afghanistan”, The Brookings Institution, March 4, 2020  Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy In Brief (page 5) (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R45122.pdf)  Ibid (page 5) “ Taliban, Afghan Government To Discuss Prisoner Release”, Aljazeera, March 26, 2020  “Afghanistan Government Announces Team For Taliban Talks”, Aljazeera, March 28, 2020  Supra note 2 (page 6)  Con Coughlin, “US-Taliban Peace Deal: What is the Deal and where is the Peace?”, Opinion, March 13, 2020  Najim Rahim and Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Ramp Up Attacks on Afghans after Trump Says ‘No Violence,” New York Times, March 4, 2020. (In this backdrop, a permanent cease fire seems like a dream)  Najim Rahim and David Zucchino,” Taliban Attack Afghanistan Amid Growing Coronavirus Threat,” New York Times, March 28, 2020  Catherine Lucy, “Behind Trump’s Syria Pull-Out Lies A Campaign Pledge”, The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2019
Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow
(Images used for representative purpose only)