US-Afghanistan ties strengthened during the Cold War. Besides top diplomats from both countries visiting nations, United States started economic assistance to Afghanistan for building infrastructure and skill development of Afghans. However, the 1978 Saur Revolution by the Soviet funded People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDFA) and the 1978 murder of US Ambassador Adolph Dubs deteriorated US-Afghan ties. US later funded Mujahideen groups to overthrow the Soviet-backed government. Post-1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed government, Mujahideen groups funded by US started fighting amongst themselves.
What is Taliban?
Taliban is a military organization with a Sunni Islamic Fundamentalist political movement. As per Carole Hillenbrand, Taliban has risen from the mujahideen funding by US-Saudi-Pakistan to fight the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Taliban was at its peak during the years 1996-2001 when it controlled nearly 75% of Afghanistan and implemented its strict interpretation of the Sharia Law.
Studies have recognized that Afghanistan’s living condition and economic development was badly affected during Taliban rule. Talibanization led to a deficiency in basic necessities and utility services and compromise in the safety of women and children. US overthrew the Taliban government after the 9/11 terror attacks.
US, with the help of NATO allies, launched a coalition attack on Taliban, which made an offer to hand over Osama bin Laden to a neutral country for stopping bombings in the region on the condition that US is able to prove Osama’s linkages with Taliban. US began targeted killing of top Taliban leaders using its Special Forces and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). On the flip side, Taliban also began the targeted killing of anti-Taliban people. Most notably, they had killed former Afghanistan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
It is alleged that Taliban was evacuated from Kabul by Pakistan’s ISI. Later Taliban regrouped and began a war to drive out US forces from Afghanistan, while the US kept dumping more and more troops in the region.
US-Afghan Enduring War
Osama bin Laden-backed 9/11 terror attacks changed US’ outlook towards Afghanistan. US had launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) to drive out Osama bin Laden, terrorist organization al-Qaeda, and Taliban. US successfully overthrew the Taliban and backed the new Hamid Karzai-led government. US once again resumed assistance to Afghanistan in the form of economic support for infrastructure development in one of the most underdeveloped nations.
US started deploying troops in Afghanistan and by 2010 the number of troops was around 100,000. On May 2, 2011, US assassinated al-Qaeda founder and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. A year later, then US President Barack Obama on a surprise visit to Afghanistan had signed the “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America” that laid out the framework of the US-Afghan relationship after US forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan. As a part of the Agreement Afghanistan became a “major non-NATO ally” of US.
The years of dragging has cost US more than $750 billion. Moreover, the dire part is that nearly 2,500 Americans and 32,000 Afghanis have died as a part of the war.
White Flag to War
After a 7-day truce and reduction of violence in the region, US and Taliban have decided to end the 18-year long war. US-Taliban representatives – U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the head of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – signed a Peace Deal in the presence of diplomats from India, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Tajikistan. The deal has 4 major parts:
1. It lays down a timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of troops given Taliban follows demands of peace laid down by the US
2. Taliban will withdraw from Afghanistan
3. Establishment of inclusive negotiations among Taliban, Afghanistan and related groups like Pakhtuns, etc.
4. An effort for peace and a permanent ceasefire must be made by Afghanistan.
US will withdraw half of its troops in the next 3 months, leaving about 8,500 soldiers still in Afghanistan. Other US and NATO allies troops will be drawn-down gradually in a period of 14 months. As a part of the deal, sanctions on Afghanistan will be withdrawn by the United Nations within 3 months and US sanctions within 14 months.
US-Vietnam Peace Deal 2.0?
In 1973, US signed the Paris Accord with Vietnam and assured the withdrawal of troops. As per the deal, North Vietnam and South Vietnam would negotiate their way out and US would come to assist if anything went south. And North Vietnam went south and dominated the southern part. However, US did not come for any assistance because of the Watergate scandal involving President Richard Nixon and the burgeoning anti-war sentiment in the US.
Then US carried out ‘Operation Frequent Wind‘ to evacuate the threatened American troops, which were a handful. Many experts are apprehensive that once again US might go through a similar situation because of Taliban resurgence, which may be backed by Pakistan.
A Roadblock Already
The Peace Deal also mentioned the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners from Afghan’s sides and 1,000 Afghan prisoners from Taliban side. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has objected to the exchange of prisoners and said that it can be a negotiation point but not a precondition laid out by the US. With the first setback to the Peace Deal, it reaffirms that the toughest challenge will be harmony between Afghan and Taliban.
Geopolitical Consequence for India
India’s Ambassador Qatar P Kumaran was invited at the ceremony of deal signing. As Afghanistan also recognized India’s persistent efforts to stabilize and bring peace to the region, India assured that it will continue to support Afghanistan to bring “peace, security and stability” in the region.
As a contiguous neighbour, India will continue to extend all support to the Government and people of Afghanistan in realising their aspirations for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future where the interest of all sections of Afghan society are protected. – Raveesh Kumar, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson
India very subtly put forth its stronghold against Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on the international front by saying that India is Afghanistan’s contiguous neighbor, referring to the Wakhan border, located in PoK, that connects India and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan appreciated India’s efforts to connect to the Middle East regions by developing Chabahar Port. It also recognized India’s efforts to establish ties with Afghanistan by developing Air Freight Corridors between various cities of India and Afghanistan, and undertaking road projects in Bamyan and Mazar-e-Sharif regions.
It remains to be seen how Pakistan is affected by this deal. Pakistan, who was the deal broker in this case, has disputes with Afghanistan over the Durand Line.
Pakistan had fulfilled its part of the responsibility in terms of facilitating this peace agreement. Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbours. – Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistani Foreign Minister
As India ushers in an era without a US-Taliban war, it also remains a question on how will US back Afghanistan and Pakistan and how will India’s relationship with US be defined in the coming times.