UPSC MAINS 2020: Afghan Peace Derailment – A Wagon of Hope

Topic : Afghan Peace Derailment – A Wagon of Hope

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2: International Affairs

Context:

U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban citing the killing of an American soldier in a suicide bomb attack for which the Taliban claimed the credit. 

Background

  • The agreement had been in the making over nine rounds of talks, largely in Doha.
  • The Afghan government was not a part of talks on account of a Taliban veto.
  • The details of the agreement are as follows
  • They centered on an initial timetable for the withdrawal of around 5,400 out of nearly 14,000 U.S. troops from five Afghan bases in 135 days.
  • A tight timeline of two weeks to kick-start intra-Afghan talks before the Afghan presidential elections.
  • The announcement was accompanied by a wave of violence. They were intended to sabotage the elections. 

Why Trump had to withdraw the Khalilzad deal

  • The deal as negotiated was one-sided, partial and highly flawed. It tilted towards Trump’s goal of a withdrawal of all U.S. troops by November 2020.
  • It was weak in guarantees against terrorism aimed at the U.S., and lacking safeguards for the security and stability for Afghanistan. 
  • Differences remained over the withdrawal of the remaining troops amid U.S. insistence on residual counter-terrorism (CT) and intelligence presence.
  • A lack of trust in the Taliban at critical levels in the U.S.
  • The comprehensive ceasefire was watered down to a limited ‘reduction’ in violence. 
  • The intra-Afghan government talks effectively downgraded to talks with a non-official delegation. 
  • The Afghan government with which the U.S. has a bilateral strategic partnership and security agreements were sidelined and powerless. 
  • These were among the reasons for Trump’s decision.

Other problems with the agreement

  • Its timing and attempt to rush intra-Afghan talks just days before the presidential elections is with the aim of undermining the elections. 
  • If successful, they could have undercut plans to install an interim, transitional or power-sharing arrangement that could provide the mechanism and an illusion of peace to pull out U.S. forces. 
  • It would have paved the way for a dominant position for the Taliban in any future dispensation and pushed Afghanistan towards instability.
  • Even a civil war worse than the intra-Mujahideen fighting of the 1990s with unpredictable consequences could happen.
  • The agreement was seen as an “abdication”, and even a “surrender” rather than a peace agreement, sacrificing the political, military and economic investments and civic gains of the last 18 years including democracy and the advancement of women.
  • It is creating the conditions for a likely descent into civil war, fanning radical extremism.

Way ahead

  • There is a need for a counter-terrorism strategy. 
  • The suspension of U.S.-Taliban talks has opened the space for the holding of Afghan presidential elections.
  • It also gave a window of opportunity for the international community and India to reset their approach to peace and withdrawal.
  • The Afghan election authorities and security forces should be supported in every way to conduct free and fair elections as an exercise of Afghan sovereignty. 
  • Concerns about misuse of government apparatus should be addressed. 
  • A reasonably good turnout even if elections are held only in secure areas would be a barometer of support elsewhere and a victory for the constitutional order.
  • Its outcome could provide a stronger foundation for talks with the Taliban that are Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and not as dictated from Washington, Islamabad, Doha or Moscow. 
  • India should be able to support such talks.
  • Free from elections, the Afghan government should take the lead in forging a national consensus behind talks with the Taliban that it has failed to do until now.
  • Focus efforts on the Taliban to demonstrate their ‘nationalism’ by distancing themselves from Pakistan’s ISI, halting attacks against fellow Afghans, agreeing to a ceasefire, and negotiating directly with a representative Afghan delegation.
  • S. military pressure on the Taliban is not enough. Doha talks show that the route to peace in Afghanistan is through Pakistan. Every possible instrument should be brought to bear on Pakistan to deliver on this. 
  • Crucial to Afghanistan’s future is its ability to stand on its own feet:
  • economically through investment in Afghanistan’s mineral sector
  • Militarily through a progressive ‘Afghanisation’ of security forces at a lower budget
  • India should be able to use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rapport with Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to influence their policies and play a larger international diplomatic role in Afghanistan.

Sample Question:

In what way The suspension of U.S.-Taliban talks has opened the space for the global community and India to reset the peace process.(250 Words)