On 11 September 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in America killed over 3000 people for which Osama Bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility.. Osama Bin Laden was based in Afghanistan during this attack and was protected by the government of the day which was run by the radical Islamist group Taliban. Even after the repeated demands from the USA government, Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the USA.
George W. Bush, the president of America at that point of time, announced the first airstrikes against Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. As other countries joined in, the Taliban were quickly removed from power and a new pro-western government was installed. The new government, however, was never able to run its writ over the whole country. The Taliban regrouped and started gaining influence in the vast rural areas and continuously attacked the US-led international military coalition as well as Afghan forces. From that point onward, the U.S. and its allies have battled to stop Afghanistan's administration crumbling and to end attacks by the Taliban.
After more than eighteen years of war in Afghanistan, on 29 February 2020, the United States and Taliban signed a peace deal which was the first step in ending the war. The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital Doha between Talibani political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. The U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that signing of the accord would be a good step to end the war, the road ahead would not be secure. There would be a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan within 14 months since the signing of the deal. The Taliban promised to cut ties with Al Qaeda and keep fighting the militant Islamic State group.
What is in the peace agreement?
The peace agreement was signed after nine rounds of discussion and it contains four main points: cease-fire, withdrawal of foreign forces, intra-Afghan negotiations, and counter-terrorism assurances.
- Cease-fire: The negotiators agreed to a temporary reduction in violence. They said that a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.
- Withdrawal of foreign forces: Within the first 135 days, the U.S. will reduce its troops in Afghanistan from roughly 12,000 to 8,600, along with the allies of the U.S. also withdrawing their forces proportionately. If the Taliban follows through all the commitments that in the peace deal, all the U.S. troops along with the allies' troops will leave Afghanistan within fourteen months.
- Counter-terrorism assurances: The United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, mainly to eliminate the threat of terrorism and halt terrorist activities in the country. As a part of the agreement, the Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan would not be used by any of its members or terrorist groups to threaten the security of the U.S. and its allies.
- Intra-Afghan negotiations: The reason behind the intra-Afghan talks is to bring together negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government. The peace deal also calls for an exchange of prisoners before the intra-Afghan negotiations. The intra-Afghan talks which were supposed to take place in March 2020, have been delayed.
Challenges to the peace deal
While this deal can be seen as a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive agreement, many difficulties may come in the way.
The United States and the Taliban had consented to the arrival of up to 5000 Taliban prisoners in return for up to one thousand Afghan security forces. However, the Afghan government said that it had not agreed on such an exchange. The process can become difficult due to a weak central government along with ethnic, tribal and sectarian differences. At the same time, many people say that the Taliban has gotten more than it gave up.
Through the deal, the Taliban got their primary wish: removal of American troops from Afghanistan. Yet, they had failed to be specific about the civil rights that they had repressed when they were in power. The insurgents pledged to keep international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as their base for attacks.
The United States promised to work towards the gradual removal of Taliban leaders from the sanction blacklists of America and the United Nations. At the same time, the experts say that the Taliban is stronger than ever at this point. It controls many districts throughout the country and continues to launch significant attacks including in Kabul and on Afghan security forces.
The peace process is also faced by the problem of the illegal drug trade. According to Afghan officials, more than 20 terrorist groups still operate inside the country, which is another threat to the deal. By signing the agreement, the U.S. and the Taliban state their commitment to reduce violence and not attack each other. What remains a worry is how much and how long the Taliban will hold fire on Afghan security forces before the cease-fire is finally reached in Afghan negotiations.
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