Context: USA-Taliban Pact (Doha Agreement).
More in news:
- In a bid to end 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States signed a peace agreement on 29th February.
- India attended the signing ceremony in Doha, and was represented by Ambassador to Qatar P Kumaran.
- The Pact titled, “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America”.
- The pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban.
- The deal was signed in the Qatar’s capital Doha on February 29, 2020, which is the Taliban’s political headquarters and has hosted talks over the past year and a half.
Timeline of the major events:
- USA went into Afghanistan in October 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, with the goals of defeating terrorists (particularly Al-Qaeda) and rebuilding and stabilising the country.
- December 2001: Karzai is sworn in as chairman of a 29-member governing council established under the Bonn Agreement.
- 2004 and 2009: General elections are held and Karzai is elected president for two consecutive terms, the limit under the Afghan constitution.
- April 2014: Deeply flawed election results in the two front-runners, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, both claiming victory. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry negotiates a power-sharing deal for a so-called Unity Government, with Ghani serving as president and Abdullah as chief executive.
- December 2014: American and NATO troops formally end their combat mission, transitioning to a support and training role though President Barack Obama had authorized U.S. forces to carry out operations against Taliban and al-Qaida targets.
- 2015-2018: The Taliban surge further, staging near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces; scores of civilians die in the crossfire. An Islamic State group affiliate emerges in the east; the Taliban seize control of nearly half the country.
- September 2018: Seeking to fulfill his election promise to bring U.S. troops home, President Donald Trump appoints veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as negotiator with the Taliban.
- September 2019: Presidential elections are held but official results are not known for months.
- November 2019: Trump visits U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, says the Taliban want to make a deal and signals the Qatar negotiations are back on.
- February 15, 2020: Washington says a temporary “reduction in violence” has been agreed upon with the Taliban as first step toward a final peace deal.
- February 18, 2020: Afghanistan’s election commission declares Ghani the official winner of September elections; his rival Abdullah refuses to recognize the results and instead declares himself the winner.
- February 29, 2020: The U.S. and the Taliban sign a deal in Doha, Qatar, laying out the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan; the deal also envisions intra-Afghan talks on a future political road map.
Key Elements of the Deal:
- Troops withdrawl: U.S. troops to be reduced from the current 14,000 to 8,600 by June 15 (in 135 days); and withdrawal of all remaining U.S. and foreign forces by April 29, 2021 (in 14 months).
- Taliban Commitment: Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies (does not include India).
- Sanctions removal: Removal of the Taliban from UN Security Council sanctions list by May 29 and US sanctions by August 27. The sanctions will be out before much progress is expected in the intra-Afghan dialogue to begin on March 10.
- The facilitation of an intra-Afghan dialogue. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.
- Prisoner Release: Up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and up to 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10, which is when intra-Afghan negotiations are supposed to start, in Oslo.
- Ceasefire: The agreement states ceasefire will be simply “an item on the agenda” when intra-Afghan talks start, and indicates actual ceasefire will come with the “completion” of an Afghan political agreement.
- The Afghan government has been completely sidelined during the talks between the US and Taliban. By giving in to this demand of Taliban, the U.S. has practically called into question the legitimacy of the government it backs.
- US-Taliban agreement and the joint declaration differ, and it is not clear whether the Ashraf Ghani-led government is on board with this “pretty big up-front concession to Taliban”.
- The idea of a ceasefire, which is normally the starting point for any peace process, has been made an outcome of the intra-Afghan dialogue, together with a political road map for the future, but without any time frame.
- India and the Taliban have had a bitter past- IC-814 hijack in 1999.
- India never gave diplomatic and official recognition to the Taliban when it was in power during 1996-2001
- India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his 2019 contested victory.
- Indian foreign policy establishment has shied away from engaging with the Taliban directly, as it is viewed as a proxy of Pakistan. India has supported for enduring and inclusive peace and reconciliation which is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”.
- India has consistently supported for an “independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic and inclusive” Afghanistan in which interests of all sections of society are preserved.
- The deal has reiterated India’s commitment to Afghanistan’s pursuit of “sustainable peace and reconciliation”. Thus, India has accepted the Doha Agreement(2020).
Implications of the deal on India:
- War against Terrorism: The deal legitimises Taliban and its actions. This weakens India’s fight against all sorts of terrorism and violence adopted by such extremist groups.
- Security Concerns: The deal also promises to take Taliban leaders off the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, which could considerably bring down the number of terrorists harboured by Pakistan. This might benefit Pakistan during the June 2020 FATF Plenary.
- Sidelining of Intra-Afghan Dialogue: The U.S. has committed to clear five bases and withdrawal of troops and it intends to submit to the Taliban-led government. Thus, priority to future Taliban led government may sideline the “Intra-Afghan” dialogue and India’s support for the election process for leadership in Afghanistan. However, India has a major stake in the continuation of the current Afghanistan government in power, which it considers a strategic asset vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The pact seems to be most likely proved similar to the Paris Peace Accords over Vietnam signed in 1973. That agreement just facilitated US withdrawal but did not stop the Viet Cong and North Vietnam from marching into Saigon two years later. As Mr. Trump maintains that it is “time that the war on terror is fought by someone else”, so it will not be the U.S.. The U.S. has described itself as a “facilitator”, a responsibility that it will be glad to share with others.