Written by Charlotte Powers.
On Feb 29, the United States government and Taliban leadership in Afghanistan signed a historic peace agreement that would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months and put an end to the longest war in American history. This agreement comes after 18 months of negotiations between the two parties. Since the war began in 2001, more than 43,000 Afghan civilians and nearly 2,500 American soldiers have been killed.
There are four main points of the peace deal. First, the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops over the course of the next 14 months. Second, a guarantee by the Taliban that they would not allow extremist groups like Al-Qaeda to operate in territory that they control. Third, the start of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, set to begin March 10. And fourth, a permanent ceasefire in the country.
President Trump is confident that the Taliban will hold up their end of the deal, but is willing to use military action if they do not comply. “I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show we’re not all wasting time,” Trump said at a press conference. “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen.”
But one aspect of the peace deal is being contested by the Afghan government. As a condition for the beginning of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. In exchange, the Taliban must also release 1,000 of their own prisoners. However, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani announced that his government had never agreed to the prisoner exchange.
The Taliban have long referred to the Afghan government as a “puppet regime” that was installed by the United States after the 2001 invasion. A lasting peace in Afghanistan would require the two sides to come together. Al-Jazeera reporter Hoda Abdel-Hamid said of the accord, “Everybody would agree, ironically, on the fact that the deal between the Taliban and the US—as difficult as it might have been—has probably been the easiest part in trying to bring peace to this country.”
Some cracks are already beginning to show in the agreement. The Taliban announced Monday, March 2, that they would resume their offensive against the Afghan government, but not against American or coalition forces. One of the preconditions of the United States to sign the peace agreement was a seven day reduction in violence from both sides. However, there was no requirement for a ceasefire after the agreement was signed. The treaty only provided a framework for working toward a ceasefire. On March 4, less than one week after the agreement was signed, the US announced that it was launching a “defensive strike” against the Taliban. Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, tweeted Wednesday, “we will defend our partners when required.” Only time will tell whether this agreement will be a meaningful step towards peace, or simply another empty gesture.