Last year, on February 29th, the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban which was hailed as a success by some and a surrender, capitulation, and defeat by the critics. What did it achieve for the two sides and the region and the country as a whole?
First, a few words about the deal itself, was it a deal in good faith and with a genuine protagonist? From the Afghan perspective, the deal had some major flaws that will come to haunt the region and as a result far beyond the region in the coming years.
1- One of the most important flaws of the deal with the Taliban was its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan. A foreign power with no representation or authority from any source made a deal with a nonstate actor about a situation where they both had no connection or loyalty. The two sides represented only themselves. They had no mandate from the Afghan people to act on their behalf or any contact with government of Afghanistan.
The US as a foreign power invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Afghanistan itself was a victim of terrorism that due to the US abandoning it to Pakistan became a haven for terrorists of all persuasions. After 19 years of futile attempts to fight terror, it decided to end its longest war and get out of the country. As a result of misguided plans and tactics, loss of lives both foreign and Afghan and waste of trillions of dollar in foreign by the US and international community, the terror group, namely, the Taliban instead of being weakened or destroyed, got stronger.
2- The second flaw in the deal with the Taliban was giving legitimacy to a vicious terror group. The US delegation under the leadership of a fellow Pashtun who had a long association and connection with the Pashtun Taliban dating back to the 1990s, sat across the table from Taliban to discuss peace. Lest we forget, this is the same group that the US went to Afghanistan to fight because it had sheltered Al Qaeda that had planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks on America. Some of the members of the Taliban delegation were former Guantanamo prisoners that the US had released in exchange with an army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. At least one more member was on death row in Afghanistan when the government exchanged him with two Western hostages. Effectively and practically, the US delegation sat across a table with well-known terrorists. This is against all known US declared policy of not negotiating with terror groups.
3- The third one was not simply a flaw but a real mistake akin to a crime to release 6000 known and convicted Taliban prisoners from the Afghan jails. It is unforgivable to release criminals from prison just for the US to reach an agreement with the Taliban. It was an outrageous decision to force the government in Kabul to release those criminals who were tried in courts and convicted, some on death row. Those criminals had carried out horrendous crimes against the people of Afghanistan. Who has the right to release killers and murderers of innocent civilians? If the US wanted to make a deal with the group it should not have been done at the cost of releasing or causing the release of murderers and killers just because it wanted a quick way to get out of the country. As soon as the prisoners were released, most of them returned to the battlefields, spiking the violence against the military as well as the civilian population.
4- The deal is not only surrendering to an enemy by a superpower but also a clear message to every terror group in the world that it pays to terrorize. Terrorists will take note of the US deal and pursue their crimes believing that victory is reachable. When the US gives in to terror demands, no country can resist or is immune to terrorism. The Taliban in their statement quoted a verse from the Quran which declares victory over the enemy and Al Qaeda was the first terror group to congratulate the victory.
The agreement between the US and the Taliban had more benefits for the Taliban and their sponsor Pakistan. For years, the Taliban wanted to negotiate directly with the US but the successive US administrations refused to enter into a negotiation with them. This time the Taliban not only gained recognition by the US but a legitimacy that would have eluded them had they been refused by the US like in the past. The legitimacy and recognition were accorded to them by the regional powers such as the Russians, Iranians as well as Chinese. Their rank and file are swelled by at least 6000 battle hardy fighters and if things go well in the intra-Afghan dialogue, there will be more releases as encouraged by the US.
Another beneficiary is Pakistan that due to a duplicitous policy towards the US, got billions of dollars in aid and the indirect control of Afghanistan again as its backyard much like the late 1990s when the Taliban were supposedly running the show.
For the US, however, the story is different. The US lost its credibility as a reliable ally. For the second time in recent decades, the US leaves Afghanistan to the wolves. The first time after it won the Cold War on the back of the Afghans, it left Afghanistan to its device which was plunged into a devastating civil war and anarchy until Pakistan stepped in and installed its puppet Taliban regime. In a surprisingly similar scenario, the US leaves Afghanistan with no assurance from any side that it will be safe and will not turn into another haven for terrorists similar to the late 1990s. Based on the agreement, the only assurance that the US has is that the Taliban will not allow Afghanistan to be used by international terrorists against the US. Already the country is awash with terrorists of all persuasions who along the Taliban are taking part in military operations.
The Possible Outcome
All the achievements of the last 20 years will be lost in practically no time when and if the Taliban will come to power in Kabul. The constitution that was so painstakingly promulgated, freedom of press and expression, the rights of women to study and work, the free elections, education of children, etc. will all be lost.
The Taliban have not changed one bit from what they were since their creation by Pakistan in the 1990s. They went to Afghanistan under a white flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, ruled under the same name and flag, fought under the same when they were driven out, negotiated under the same, and now hails under the same flag. The Taliban do not change; their change is their demise. They have not renounced violence and they will not stop the violence. They live by the gun and die by it. They have not dissociated from other terror groups and they will not do so now or ever. They are the same as they were more than two decades ago, but Afghanistan and its people are not. If as the US favors, the Taliban are brought to power in Afghanistan by imposed negotiations or by sheer military force, there will be war and the country will plunge once again into a morass and its ripple effects will be felt far beyond the region.
What the US did was against everything that this country stands for and preaches.