Peace in Afghanistan is something which has become a real white elephant to find. On one hand where Trump Administration was keen on bringing back troops from the Afghanistan as soon as possible and leaving the country on the mercy of Taliban, on the other hand, the Biden administration is looking forward to further keeps their talks going on with the Taliban but on the terms and conditions of the US. Joe Biden has also slowed down the retrieval of US forces from the soil of Afghanistan.
Joe Biden’s thought process:
Joe Biden in one of his presidential debates with Donald Trump referred America’s engagement and role in Afghanistan as, “forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.” Biden also promised to bring back troops from Afghanistan but his promise was accompanied with, “focus our mission on Al – Qaeda and ISIS.” This indicates Biden’s ambitions to make America active in the world geopolitics once again by increasing America’s role in the Middle East. This will proof to be the reversal of Trump’s “America first” or “America inward looking” policy.
The Doha Agreement:
Trump wanted a hasty retrieval of troops from Afghanistan and to fulfil this purpose he sent a special envoy to Afghanistan, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad. Whose purpose was to hold talks with the Taliban get to the quickest middle ground to which both the parties i.e, the Taliban and the US government could agree to. This hastiness on the part of the US, put it in the lesser spot in the deal and Taliban got the higher ground. This made certain that the bargain between the two may lead to the returning of US troops buy it would definitely not ensure peace in the region. Finally Zalmay Khalizad brokered a deal between the Taliban and the US in March 2020. Both the parties signed the deal in the same month itself in the city of Doha, this deal is that is why known as the Doha agreement. Major points of the agreement were:
- US would withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan within a period of 14 months. The process would start with the retrieval of 8600 troops in the first four and a half months.
- Taliban would commit to not threaten the security of the US and its allies.
- All the sanctions that were being put up on the Taliban leaders by the US or the UN would be revoked within the first three months.
- US also promised to release 5000 Taliban fighters which were captured by the US army in return of the release of 1000 Afghan army persons by the Taliban forces.
It has been 8 months since the Doha agreement. The present condition in Afghanistan is that less than 2500 US troops are left on the Afghan soil and there is no bar on the violence that the Taliban is unleashing now. Since Taliban only mentioned security to US and its allies and no mention of ceasefire by Taliban was done in the agreement. The Doha agreement is also keeping Zalmay Khalizad from even condemning Taliban for its acts of cruelty and sidelining of the Afghan government.
Understanding the Taliban Narrative:
- In the year 1995, Taliban established its Islamic emirate in Afghanistan, which was overthrown by the US and the NATO forces in 2001
- Taliban believes that with the retrieval of the US forces from the Afghan soil the re – establishment of Taliban’s Islamic Emirate will take place and would become the lawful government of Afghanistan.
- Taliban has already said multiple times that the Doha agreement is actually an acknowledgement of victory of Taliban.
Joe Biden completely and thoroughly understands this narrative of Taliban. Biden administration is also sensible enough to aim the course of negotiation towards a reversal by not only bringing in the Afghanistan government and making them a party to peace process as well. This has proven to be a total reversal of the policy adopted by the previous administration which was to sideline the Afghanistan government. The US under Joe Biden is now rethinking the Doha agreement and the possibilities are strong that the agreement is either going to go under major changes or it may also get terminated altogether. Secretary of State Tony Blinken in his talks with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that, “the progress made over the last 20 years with regard to human rights, civil liberties, and the role of women in Afghan society.” Even the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan himself has signalled towards the reviewing of the US – Taliban agreement. The basis and the reason cited by the US for this review is that Taliban has not been on its word of stopping every support and backing to the Al – Qaeda and the ISIS. Now, whether this review will be recognised by Taliban or not, this is for the time to tell.
Options for Joe Biden:
- Full troop withdrawal by May 2021: Biden administration can go on the path of Donald Trump and follow the Doha Agreement. But this option seems highly unlikely for the current administration.
- Withdraw but retain a residual force: Biden can honour the Doha Agreement but could leave back sufficient troop so as to keep a check on the activities and the violence caused by the Taliban.
- Extend the withdrawal deadline: Another thing that can be done is to shift the goal post, i.e, to extend the withdrawal date further form May 2021, this will also provide sufficient time to the Biden administration to chalk out a fresh strategy for dealing with the Taliban.
- Expedite Intra – Afghan talks: To bring the Afghan government on table.
It is most likely that the Biden administration will go with the options 3 and 4 i.e, Buying time by extending the withdrawal deadline and then making the Afghanistan government a part and parcel of the talks and the agreement. Moreover, this is pretty clear that Joe Biden is not in a mood to let Taliban do the violence and the peace talks at same time. Whatever transpires, it will be interesting to see.