International Policy Digest

Michael J. MacLeod/U.S. Army
World News /19 May 2020
05.19.20

Negotiating Peace with the Taliban

On February 29, 2020, the United States struck a deal with the Taliban in the hopes of achieving some sort of sustainable peace. Since last fall, President Trump has attempted, contrary to the advice of some of his advisors at the time, to meet with the Taliban in order to hash out a peace agreement. Trump’s friendly approach to the group – including talk of inviting certain Taliban leaders to Camp David – seemed unwise and imprudent. Was it merely a publicity stunt, an attempt to end the war in Afghanistan simply as a ploy to get re-elected? Or was he truly upholding the golden American ideal of peace?

Our government has kept troops in Afghanistan since 2001 and removing them would mark a truly historic moment that would, ideally, begin the healing process in a country long ravaged by war. The terms discussed between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha earlier this year state that U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan within fourteen months, given that the agreement is followed. However, recent developments have thrown a wrench in these hastily laid out plans.

On Tuesday, May 12, a maternity ward in Kabul, Afghanistan was the site of a terrorist attack that killed sixteen people (including two newborn babies). Doctors Without Borders flocked to the scene, saving the remaining lives and administering help where they could.

While the Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, it’s not the only blood that’s been freshly spilled on Afghan ground. The same day as the maternity ward attack, an attack killed twenty-four people after a suicide bombing at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan.

As the ink on the peace agreement is barely six weeks old, these events are hardly insignificant. Even as the Taliban doesn’t claim involvement for the attacks, there’s no true way to prove their statements. Their influence extends far past their own group. As Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security advisor, recently said, they’ve merely: “subcontracted their terror to other entities.”

This powerful statement sums up the Afghan government’s feelings towards the Taliban – they are not to be trusted, a sentiment with years of lies, broken agreements, and violence to back it up.

So far, Trump has not included representation from the Afghan government in his discussions with the Taliban. This is a bold and arguably rash move, seeing as cooperation between the government and the Taliban will be essential if Afghanistan is to truly restore peace. It’s disappointing, to say the least, to watch our government tout themselves as global peacekeepers while each failed negotiation signifies more lives lost. It’s not a matter of us or them; it’s the principle of promoting and maintaining peace, an ideology the U.S. has long promoted; a hollow promise, for the most part.

Our current leadership is a perfect example; using the Afghan war as a canvas on which to paint the American savior, the cost of which is innocent lives. Trump’s peace agreement, while outwardly projecting good intentions, seems frail and unenforceable, and may be merely a last-ditch effort at a publicity stunt.

The Taliban are notoriously difficult to negotiate with and historically untrustworthy as to keeping their word. Trump has gone so far as to invite the terrorist organization itself to Washington; certainly, a bold move.

Most likely, it’ll only serve to attract attention and gloss over the violent attacks wreaking havoc across Afghanistan. Actual attempts at diplomacy are doubtful. The question remains, however – will the new peace agreement work after recent events?

As Trump is known for spontaneous and immature decisions, we’re in the dark as to what he may do next, or if the attacks had any effect on his thought process and decision making. While keeping American troops in Afghanistan is certainly costly and preferably avoidable, it may be the only way to keep the Taliban in line if the current agreement has no effect. Trump’s plan to remove U.S. troops within fourteen months was a huge promise to make to suffering families and soldiers alike; however, it may turn out to be an empty one.

The timeline doesn’t truly allow for Afghanistan to stabilize as it needs to after years of savage warfare. Again, negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban with facilitation and enforcement from the U.S. are the key to restoring peace. As we know, such discussions have, so far, yielded thin results.

The Taliban have been key players in Afghanistan since 1996, leading to the destruction of their economy and infrastructure. Will the Taliban ever be willing to relinquish power? Perhaps Trump’s recent attempt at friendship with the group has only served to increase the power struggle between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Or maybe it’s a real step in the right direction, an actual attempt at putting diplomacy before violence. Given the president’s disposition and history, however, it’s unlikely. Either way, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has stated that Afghanistan shall “resume offensive operations” against the Taliban in light of the maternity ward attack and funeral suicide bombing.

Initially, our agreement with the Taliban seemed to be having positive effects, but the recent violence could signify the beginning of its derailment. Furthermore, Afghanistan’s immediate call to arms may only result in backtracking and erase any diplomatic progress made within the past few weeks. It’s an understandable decision, however, given that citizen’s lives are at risk and there’s no other immediate solution. It’s certainly a multifaceted issue that will take far more than one agreement to solve. As governments and terrorists alike haggle and scheme, innocent Afghan civilians continue to suffer in the crossfire.