Venice Hancock, News Sub-Editor.
Article updated on March 6 2020.
On Friday February 14, Mike Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, Zalmay Khalilzad, Afghan-American diplomat in charge of peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, Scott Miller, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and Ashraf Ghani, Afghan president were all gathered at the Munich Conference on security. They were there to pass the terms of an agreement reached a few days earlier in Doha. This agreement is made up of three separate steps. Firstly, all parties involved will seriously observe a ceasing of hostilities during a period of seven days. Officially, the American military and the Taliban have agreed to observe what they are referring to as a “reduction of violence”. The Afghan military has also pledged to limit its operations during this time. This ceasefire could begin during the week of February 17, and if successful, could entail a visit from U.S. president Donald Trump to Kabul. However, U.S Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has stated that he is unsure about when the truce between the United States and the Taliban could begin.
According to the agreement reached in Munich, the next step – if the seven day period has gone well – is for all parties to be invited to a formal signing of the agreement. The third step will mark the start of a ten day period dedicated to discussions within Afghan circles. President Ghani has been designated to lead these talks in the hopes of bringing about a comprehensive and inclusive dialogue between various parties within Afghanistan.
While these negotiations have taken place amidst continued attacks in Afghanistan, after eighteen years of conflict in the country, this “reduction of violence” could be a decisive step towards peace. The peace talks have been going on since 2018 between the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban, the main insurgent group in the region. The process of a “reduction of violence” comes as a positive step in discussions. However, some critics have suggested that this initiative would only be an opportunity for the Taliban to take advantage of the situation, to go back on their word and gain ground in the country while continuing military operations.
In the last three months of 2019, we saw violence in Afghanistan increase and witnessed a record number of attacks perpetrated by the Taliban and other forces opposing the government. This occurred despite peace talks going on for two years.
Peace in Afghanistan has been a long term goal for the United States. The country’s involvement in Afghanistan started during the Cold War at the time of the Soviet Union occupation and has dragged on through the War on Terror and into this new decade. Under Reagan, the United States supported Afghan insurgents known as the Mujahideen in order to combat Communist forces in the region. When the Soviets retreated from the country after nine years of conflict, political instability took over the structure of the country while the United States left behind a well trained and well armed network of jihadists, a part of which was Osama Bin Laden. After many years of civil war, the Taliban, allied with Al Qaeda, took over Afghanistan. After the events 9/11, Al Qaeda, and thus, the Taliban became the United States’ biggest enemy and target and the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Under President Obama, the world witnessed a surge in American troops being sent to the country and the assassination of Bin Laden. The war continues today under President Trump and the Taliban still have a firm grip on Afghanistan, perpetrating many attacks against the civilian population.
If these talks manage to accomplish a shift towards actual peace in the country, we could expect a rise in counter-terrorism and intelligence measures deployed by the United States and a decline in the number of troops engaged in group operations. However, some have speculated that if the U.S. were to remove a large number of their troops too hastily, the Taliban would only regain the power and terrain that they had lost. This would of course be a very counter-productive outcome and is one of the reasons why the United States are still in Afghanistan in 2020.
Hopefully this agreement represents the first step on the road to a peaceful resolution to the conflict ion Afghanistan.
Update: On February 29th the United States and the Taliban officially signed the agreement that would put into action the “reduction of violence”.