The United States and the Taliban have signed a historic peace agreement that could bring an end to the long 18-year war that began after the 9/11 attacks on America. Under the terms of this agreement, the United States will remove all of its troops from the country within 14 months; the removal will be gradual and begin immediately.
This highly anticipated peace agreement was signed on Saturday afternoon local time by Taliban leadership and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Khalilzad has been part of the negotiations with the Taliban for over 18 months. The agreement comes after the two sides abided by a weeklong truce, dubbed a “reduction in violence” between the two sides.
The Taliban and the U.S. are slated to meet in Oslo in March to discuss a complete cease-fire.
But while the agreement appears to have been concluded — thus also fulfilling a campaign promise by President Trump to get the United States out of endless wars — it is far from a done deal, and the remarks of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echo that.
“We will closely watch the Taliban’s compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions. This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists,” Pompeo said. Pompeo, according to the AP, had reportedly informed a conference consisting of U.S. ambassadors at the State Department that he would only be attending the meeting in Doha because President Trump has insisted on his attendance.
His feeling about the long-term chances of a lasting agreement were plain in his further comments, seeming directed straight at the Taliban: “This agreement will mean nothing and today’s good feelings will not last if we don’t take concrete actions on commitments and promises that have been made,” Pompeo added.
One of the first sticking points of the agreement concerns Taliban prisoners. Over 5,000 Taliban members held in Afghan prisons are to be released. The Afghan government was not part of the negotiations with the Taliban, who refused to even meet with them as they claim that they are merely puppets of the United States and thus illegitimate.
Also as part of the agreement, the U.S. will be immediately cutting the number of the approximately 13,000 troops in the country, although around 8,000 will remain to ensure certain counter-terrorism conditions are met by the Taliban.
U.S Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that “fully reducing our presence in Afghanistan down to zero — our ultimate goal — will take many months. Even as we drawdown our forces, our train, advise, and assist efforts will continue, and we will not hesitate to strike terrorist threats throughout the country as they emerge.”
Those terrorist threats could mean continued Taliban or al-Qaeda attacks. Al-Qaeda was specifically mentioned in the accord: The Taliban are supposed to cut all ties to the terrorist organization.
“Central to our agreement with the Taliban are the measures to prevent the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups or other individuals who seek to harm the United States or our allies,” Esper added. “Should that ever become compromised, we will take all necessary measures to protect our homelands and our people.”
Pompeo quickly downplayed any talk of victory, “I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory — victory for Afghans — will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper,” Pompeo warned. “Victory for the United States will only be achieved when Americans and our allies no longer have to fear a terrorist threat from Afghanistan and we will do whatever it takes to protect our people.”
However, the Taliban are under no such illusions. Several Taliban members held a small victory march in Qatar where they waved Taliban flags and recorded a video that they quickly posted on their websites. “Today is the day of victory, which has come with the help of Allah,” said Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai, who joined the march.
So what does this all mean? Will there be peace in Afghanistan… finally? And how long will it last? Probably not very long, if at all. The Taliban haven’t changed their outlook on anything since the first Special Forces troops entered the country in 2001. Women’s rights, which were of paramount importance to the American administrations since the war began, are seeming going out the window. The Taliban has always preached a very strict adherence to Sharia Law.
The Taliban have also pledged not to allow the country to once again become a breeding ground for terrorists and terrorist organizations that attacked our country. Do we really believe that they’re going to reverse the course now?
Will the Taliban, and other warlords nominally under their control, abide by the peace agreement? If one were to believe that, then he would be ignoring the decades of violence that the Taliban wrought on their own countrymen. They’ve made their feelings crystal clear on how they feel about the existing government and they have always controlled the population through violence and intimidation. They don’t seek a coalition of power to achieve peace. They aim for complete power and while they may tone the violence down to get the United States and the NATO coalition forces to leave, that will only put off the violence for a period of time.
Was it worth it? Was it worth the thousands of American lives lost and the thousands of troops permanently injured, the trillions of dollars spent? Once our troops have completed their withdrawal, will the already implemented changes to the existing culture and education be enough to make them permanent? Or will Afghanistan return to a basic 12th century way of living where women are second-class citizens and any education that is not under the auspices of the state religion frowned upon? Those questions won’t be answered today, next week or even next year.
The United States got the exit strategy that the administration had been looking for. But it may all be for naught if the Taliban don’t keep their end of the bargain… and that is a very big if.