The negotiations appear to give the Taliban some degree of political legitimacy in Afghanistan following the complete withdrawal of US forces and in exchange the insurgent group is expected to stop harbouring 'terrorists'.
The latest negotiations between the Taliban and the US have come closer to fruition — which might be an end to the insurgent group's war against the Afghan government, a heavily militarised state installed by the US in Kabul following its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Both sides, however, have been tight on their words, disclosing little about details of the ultimate agreement, which might be signed before the end of this month, according to Abdul Salam Hanafi, one of the top Taliban leaders, who participates in the talks.
Washington’s leading negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American and a former US ambassador to Kabul following the American invasion, has also sounded “cautiously optimistic”.
But after the US pull-out from the continuing negotiations in September, following an incident in which a US soldier was killed in Afghanistan, no one is completely sure that the ongoing talks will lead a peaceful transition in the war-torn country.
“I am realistic enough to know that there are lots of challenges ahead,” Khalilzad viewed. He also believes that “maybe better than any time in the last couple of decades, there is an opportunity for peace”.
Is the Taliban benefiting from the supposed deal?
While the future of negotiations is not clear, it appears that the Taliban, a group that has been demonised by both the Afghan government and Western countries for so long, could be the ultimate benefactor of the deal.
According to the negotiated deal, there will be a period of “reduced violence”, which has to hold for seven days, and if the Taliban keeps its word on that, the prospect of a prominent US-Taliban agreement could be possible.
The agreement will create a political mechanism in which the US military will withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange to the Taliban promise that the group will not harbour any terrorist organisation which aims to attack the West.
As the US military begins withdrawing from Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan talks will be launched to address the country’s long conflict between the Taliban and Kabul, the deal proposes.
With the proposed deal, the Taliban appears to ensure an American pull-out before it sits down with its Afghan enemies at the negotiation table. The group has long resisted negotiating with Kabul before the US withdrawal, which would leave the Taliban as the most powerful political and military actor in the Afghan theatre of war.
As an even more strengthened group with the US pull-out and a more legitimate group thanks to an agreement with Washington, the Taliban, which has already controlled a good part of the country, will have the upper hand against its counterparts in the supposed intra-Afghan talks.
“That the Taliban won the [American withdrawal] commitment in the Doha talks — which excluded the Afghan government — will burnish its legitimacy as a worthy interlocutor with the United States. The group will start the so-called ‘intra-Afghan’ talks the agreement requires with its leverage enhanced,” wrote Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Program at International Crisis Group, and former United States’ deputy and then acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017.
While the Taliban gains essential ‘leverage’ against its Afghan political rivals, the deal proposes no apparent mechanism which would prevent the group from starting another armed rebellion against Kabul. The deal does also not include anything close to a partial or total disarmament of the group.
Hanafi even argued that before the intra-Afghan talks, there will also be a prisoner swap.
“When the process of releasing of 5,000 [Taliban] prisoners . . . is completed, then intra-Afghan talks will begin,” Hanafi said.
Apparently, the Taliban will release 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces in exchange to its prisoners, according to Hanafi.
But before the news of the deal was in the air, Afghan officials disputed Hanafi’s account of the prisoner exchange saying that it would be discussed in the intra-Afghan talks, which will focus on the Taliban’s place in the country’s political system.
“The next stage of talks could easily consume a year or more. They will have to tackle much thornier questions of how to share power and security responsibilities and how to modify state structures to satisfy both the government’s interest in maintaining the current system and the Taliban’s interest in something they would regard as more Islamic,” Miller viewed.
Is Trump another winner?
The deal might also benefit US President Donald Trump, who is facing an uphill battle to claim a second term in the US elections.
During his first campaign, Trump promised his constituencies to bring an end to the “endless wars” across the world from Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria. Against the protests of much of the US establishment, he partly withdrew troops from Syria.
Now with a possible Taliban deal, which ensures the US pull-out from one of the most troubled corners of the world, he can perfectly argue that he fulfilled his pledge to bring American troops back home safe and sound.