After nearly a year of on-again, off-again discussions, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar. If it succeeds, it will mean the complete withdrawal of all U.S. and other foreign troops in Afghanistan after more than 18 years of occupation and fighting that took the lives of more than 3,500 American and NATO troops and countless thousands of Afghans, most of them civilians. That withdrawal would take place over 14 months. In addition, 5,000 Taliban prisoners will be released.
The question now is whether this will bring peace to Afghanistan or some other result, such as civil war between factions not aligned with the Taliban. So far, the talks have excluded the Afghan government, a major sore point for its leaders, and the ultimate success of the agreement depends on the outcome of talks between it, the Taliban, and other factions. Those talks start next month.
You can read the text of the agreement here.
With the exception of the wars with American Indians from 1788-1890, the Afghan war has been America’s longest. For the Afghans, the war stretches back four decades to the Soviet invasion and the internecine fighting that followed Moscow’s withdrawal in 1988. Estimates of the U.S. cost of the war range widely because there is no uniform way the White House or Congress tallies or allocates the money. One estimate puts it at about $1 trillion while another puts it at $2 trillion. But neither of those numbers include future interest on debt incurred to pay for the wars, estimated by one researcher at an additional $7.9 trillion by the 2050s. Nor does it cover the cost to the Department of Veterans Affairs for caring for injured U.S. veterans, including tens of thousands who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Doha for the ceremony: “The future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine. The U.S.-Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that.” On Friday, Donald Trump said, “If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.”
Just getting the Taliban to the table with the nation’s leaders was a difficult step. The Taliban have rejected the legitimacy of the Kabul government, calling it a “puppet regime” that they would not negotiate with. On Friday, however, Taliban leaders were taking a victory lap over the certainty of the signing in Doha. The Taliban has agreed to break off all ties to international terror groups, including al Queda, whose attacks on the United States in 2001 spurred the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, which, at the time was controlled by the Taliban. But it has not agreed to any adjustment of its ultra-strict interpretation of Islam, profound oppression of women and girls, and harsh punishments of both women and men for the pettiest of offenses.
How the Kabul government handles the talks could be problematic given that the outgoing chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and the new president Ashraf Ghani are at deep odds with one another. Emran Feroz at Foreign Policy reported Tuesday:
Over the last several days, Abdullah, rejecting the claim of victory by Ghani, barred electoral officials from traveling out of the country and nominated officials and governors in two provinces in the north of the country, Sar-e-Pul and Jawzjan. “Our team is the winner of the election based on clean votes, and we announce our victory and the formation of an inclusive government,” Abdullah said. He also described the election outcome as “national treason,” “illegal,” and “a coup against democracy.”
Reportedly, Abdullah is even willing to take an oath of office as president of his parallel government. […]
The legitimacy problem is an abiding one; this is the third presidential election in row in which Abdullah has refused to accept the official results and accused his opponent of fraud. In 2009, Abdullah lost against former President Hamid Karzai. In 2014, it was Ghani who beat Abdullah after a runoff. In the end, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had to intervene several times personally to reconcile the opponents. Until today, many government critics believe that it was not the vote of the Afghan people that made Ghani president but Kerry’s decision.
The United States had a choice in 2001. It could have gone into Afghanistan and done what was needed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and kneecap al Qaeda, then bring the troops home. Instead, lives and treasure were poured into a fight that generals and neoconservative politicians said the U.S. could win and historians warned it couldn’t. Has the lesson been learned? Rather doubtful.
Two weeks ago in Munich, @SecPompeo made a commitment to me and other members of Congress: the Afghan peace deal would NOT require the Afghan gov't to release Taliban prisoners.
Today's deal requires them to release 5,000.https://t.co/OKLAHefLli
— Tom Malinowski (@Malinowski) February 29, 2020