President Donald Trump said talks with the Taliban were “dead” in September. But after nine interrupted rounds of negotiations, the United States signed a peace agreement with Taliban leaders on Saturday aimed at securing the withdrawal of all American and allied troops from Afghanistan. However, on Sunday there were already signs that the fragile breakthrough would be difficult to keep alive.
What are the terms of the agreement?
The United States has agreed to withdraw all of its military forces from Afghanistan, including contractors, trainers and advisers, within 14 months. All coalition partners, including NATO, will also withdraw their 39,000 troops during this period.
Washington will begin with a reduction of approximately 4,000 soldiers within 135 days, bringing the remaining total to 8,600, as well as a proportional reduction in Allied and coalition forces. The United States will seek approval from the UN Security Council for the agreement and will push to remove all sanctions against the Taliban by August 27. As part of the deal, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners are due to be released by March 10, with the remainder set to be released three months after that.
In return, the Taliban leaders pledged to break with al-Qaeda. They also agreed to enter into intra-Afghan talks with the country’s politicians and civil society to achieve a permanent ceasefire and the inclusion of the Taliban in the Afghan government.
Will the rights of women and minorities be respected?
There is no agreement on this issue. The Taliban describe themselves as the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and want the Afghans to live under its version of Sharia law. It is unclear how its inclusion in the heart of the Afghan government could accommodate women and girls, who now represent 39% of Afghan students. Under five years of Taliban rule that ended with the American invasion of 2001, women were banned from work and education, were required to wear burkas in public, and were subjected to forced marriage of minors.
Any agreement will also aim to address the historical grievances of the three main ethnic groups – the Pashtuns, the Tajiks and the Hazara. A senior Pakistani official warned that past peace deals collapsed when community leaders “demanded their share of the power and resources structure.”
What are the next steps?
Trump said he “would personally meet with the Taliban leaders in the not too distant future,” adding that he hoped the group would continue to “kill terrorists” – a reference to the Taliban’s own war against Isis in Afghanistan. .
Afghan negotiators are expected to call new talks on March 10 in Oslo to discuss a political transition, but US officials have said the time and place may change. One of the stumbling blocks is that persuading the Kabul government to release Taliban prisoners by that date, a precondition for intra-Afghan talks.
In addition to the Taliban’s commitment to seek a lasting ceasefire, negotiators have yet to agree on an agenda for the talks or even confirm their involvement. US officials say they expect the Taliban, women, opposition, political and religious leaders to be involved in talks at some level, but the government has yet to choose its team national.
It is also unclear how the Taliban could be integrated into the Afghan security apparatus and how the military, police and intelligence services would be affected.
Antipathy towards Mr. Ghani of Abdullah Abdullah – the opposition politician who refused to recognize his electoral victory and threatened to set up a parallel government until the United States dissuaded it last week – also complicates the political transition.
The agreement also commits the United States to support the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has petroleum and various mineral deposits, including gold, copper and marble.
Is it the end of the war?
Far from there. Al-Qaeda and Isis, who have fighters in Afghanistan, oppose the deal. British officials have said it is possible that these groups may seek to exploit the distraction caused by the agreement. In particular, they suggested that the changing dynamics between the Allied forces and the Afghan security forces could give jihadists room to operate more effectively.
US officials also fear that Taliban fighters, including some of the thousands the Taliban wish to release from prison, may continue their association with al-Qaeda or even join Isis, the group’s enemy.
It is also unclear whether Pakistan will deny asylum to groups that threaten the security of the United States, as the agreement only covers Afghan soil. The United States, however, thanked Pakistan for its support, which included the release of the Taliban’s chief negotiator from prison at the request of the United States in 2018.
The United States has declared that its withdrawal from the troops is contingent on the Taliban fulfilling its commitments. The Taliban leadership has tried to demonstrate that it can control its fighters. But some observers have warned of the relative calm of a week before the deal is too short.
Some analysts also say the intra-Afghan talks are unlikely to be successful. The Taliban would “naturally” return to jihad if the United States violated the agreement, a spokesman for the FT said.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad, and Helen Warrell in London