US-Taliban peace plan 'won't help free Afghans from violence'
The United States is to withdraw 5,400 troops from Afghanistan under a draft deal with the Taliban aimed at ending nearly 18 years of conflict.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the pullout – the result of nine rounds of peace talks in Qatar – would happen within 135 days, and see the closure of five American bases.
As the news was announced, the Taliban – who now control more territory than at any time since their overthrow in 2001 – took credit for killing at least 16 civilians in a bomb and gun attack in Kabul.
Deal a year in the making
In exchange for the US troops leaving, the Taliban is promising that Afghan soil will not be used as a base for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State to attack the West.
While this deal has been a year in the making, many analysts in the country remain unconvinced it will do much to end the daily violence faced by ordinary Afghans.
“This is not an Afghan peace – this is peace between the Taliban and the US that offers an excuse for the US to pull out their soldiers,” says Ahmad Shaheer Anil, of the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organisation in Kabul.
“Millions and billions of dollars and the support of more than 140 countries could not bring about peace – and now there is only one major player left on the battlefield, and that's the US.
“I don't see this as peace between Afghanistan's population of 32-million and the Taliban; it's been brokered by one US representative focused on US interests – especially how the Taliban is not going to attack US territories and their military bases.”
Longest war in American history
The war that was triggered by the Twin Tower attacks in New York has cost the US billions of dollars – and pulling out the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan is a longstanding Trump campaign pledge.
Presidential elections are set for the end of the month, on 28 September, with Ashraf Ghani seeking a second five-year term. The Taliban has already announced plans to target the polls, which were not directly covered in the agreement.
A pullout of the remaining forces would only happen in the event of direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, as well as a ceasefire.
So far the Taliban has refused to deal directly with the government, whom they see as American puppets, and details of any future negotiations are unclear.
A complete withdrawal of US forces would likely result in a civil war, says Anil – adding that the climate of trust between civilians and officials that has been built over the years is eroding.
“The problem is that this is not an Afghan war; this is a proxy war,” he says. “So yes, you could probably reach a deal with the Taliban under whatever conditions, but what are you going to do with the original actors – Iran and Pakistan – who are feeding these insurgency groups so they can continue their violence?”
The aim of the US-Taliban deal is to end the war and the violence, Khalilzad said – conceding that any formal ceasefire deal would have to be negotiated by the Afghans themselves.