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Afghan Peace Talks resume – Negotiation between Afghanistan Government and Taliban restarts

Afghan Peace Talks resume – Negotiation between Afghanistan Government and Taliban restarts

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  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Afghanistan

Why in the news?

  • After more than a month of delays, escalating violence and a flurry of diplomatic activity, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have resumed in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar.
  • The Afghan peace talks were originally scheduled to resume in early January 2021, but Taliban negotiators were absent until late February.

What is the current situation?

  • The priority for the Afghan government, the US, and NATO is a serious reduction in violence leading to a cease fire.
  • The Taliban have agreed in principle to this stance, but until now it has resisted any immediate ceasefire by tooth and nail.
  • The new government in the USA under President Biden is reviewing the February 2020 peace deal the previous Trump administration signed with the Taliban that calls for the final withdrawal of international forces by May 1.
  • The Taliban do not want any extension in this deadline for withdrawal of US led forces.
  • On the other hand, the Afghan government has welcomed this announcement of the new government, as the violence, ideological differences, and increasing mistrust between the parties is continued.
  • India is also subtly welcoming this move of the new US government.

US-Taliban Agreement 2020:

  • The February 2020 deal signed by the US and NATO allies with the Taliban was the result of multiple rounds of negotiations between the US — led by envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — with Taliban officials.
  • Due to domestic elections compulsions, the US even had agreed with the Taliban to “reset actions” by strictly adhering to the terms of the agreement, amidst intensified terror operations in Afghanistan

Salient provisions:

  • The U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020 calls for a total U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021
  • The February 2020 agreement requires the Taliban to cut ties with the group and refuse to harbor foreign fighters, including al-Qaida.
  • The deal obligated the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters by March 10, 2021.
  • The deal also promised a proportionate reduction in the number of other international forces in Afghanistan and efforts from both sides to support intra-Afghan peace negotiations and a prisoner swap.
  • Since the US government had made this agreement on their own bypassing Afghan officials, it had angered the Afghan government officials. But the U.S. side insists that the agreement it settled with the Taliban came with the understanding that there would be a reduction in violence.
  • Now this deal is under consideration for a review process by the newly elected government in the USA.

Why has the deal been failing?

  • Lacklustre attitude of Taliban: The Taliban has not been honouring its commitments made under the US-Taliban deal. Even when the deal is under process, the Taliban has not stopped its meetings with Al-Qaeda and other terror organisations. The United Nations Mission to Afghanistan documented 3,035 civilians killed in 2020, the seventh consecutive year the death toll topped 3,000. Another 5,786 civilians were wounded last year.
  • Not so good intentions of the Taliban: The official U.S.-Taliban deal details a number of talks that would continue well into the future between the U.S., Taliban, and the government of Afghanistan. And yet, ongoing violence, especially against innocent civilian communities, largely negates the value in these discussions. Just on schedule, the Taliban are attacking the Afghan government while supposedly not attacking the U.S. and its allies.
  • Very limited capacity for the Taliban to control violence themselves: Taliban are too decentralised and too diverse a group to meaningfully control themselves. The USA could be negotiating directly with the prominent leaders like Quetta Shura or Peshawar Shura Taliban, and still the Taliban field would have been commanders making independent decisions elsewhere resulting in bloodshed.
  • Rush of the US to sign the deal: The US was in a rush to sign the deal even at the signs of non-compliance by the Taliban was mainly due to domestic compulsion rather than well thought-out afghan peace process. The US in the process has made a lot of compromises such as it failed to establish an internationally acceptable minimum standard for the rights of women. America dismissed any chances of being an American role in guaranteeing the rights of Afghan women, suggesting this should be left to the Afghans to sort out.
  • The absence of Afghan government: Lastly, the bypassing of Afghan government officials has made the deal ineffective. The US must have no business negotiating away the Afghan government’s prerogatives such as releasing 5,000 hardened Taliban fighters, etc. This generated considerable resentment within the Afghan government and security forces.

India’s Strategy:

  • India should reach out to the new US administration at the earliest for improvements in the existing US-Taliban deal.
  • Amidst the news of Biden retaining the Chief Negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad at the helm of the process, and the new US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin appeasing Pakistan by acknowledging that the country had taken “constructive steps” to reign on anti-India terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, it should raise the alarm in New Delhi.
  • India today has limited tactical options on how to preserve itself around the question of Afghanistan. It should accept that the Taliban has gained an upper hand in the negotiations as of now.
  • Indian leadership has rightly resisted the idea of having ‘boots on the ground’ in Afghanistan to aid the Afghan military. However, India should continue exploring other kinetic options such as continuous support to Afghan Forces in form of arms and ammunition, provide training and support etc. and develop an overall capacity to operate in its desired manner.

Conclusion:

  • So far, the peace talks have failed to make the country safer, even for civilians.
  • Civilians were largely victims of the ground engagements between the Afghan government and the Taliban and improvised explosive devices.
  • Ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire. Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.
  • In order to realise India’s strategic interests truly in the country, India should endeavour to influence all stakeholders so that a peaceful environment can be created in Afghanistan.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Enumerate the salient provisions of US-Taliban Agreement 2020. Also, critically examine the reasons for which the deal has been failing to achieve its objectives.