The war that has raged for nearly 19 years in Afghanistan may finally be coming to an end. President Trump signed a deal with the Taliban on Feb. 29 that seeks to terminate US presence on the ground and push Afghanistan towards a lasting ceasefire between the Taliban and the government.
America has had a presence in Afghanistan since the 1970s during the Soviet Era. US combat troops landed in the country in 2001 after 9/11, and have been there in varying magnitudes ever since. The US’s fight in Afghanistan has cost the nation two trillion dollars and has turned into the longest war in US history. Nearly 2,400 Americans have died as a result of the conflict, as well as 157,000 Afghans, over 43,000 of which were civilians. The deal signed with the Taliban would remove all US military forces, numbering at around 12,000, within the next 14 months, dependent upon the Taliban keeping terrorist groups out of the country. The US, in addition to members of the United Nations Security Council, will “remove members of the Taliban from the sanctions list.” The Taliban and Afghan government will also conduct a prisoner exchange: the government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the 1,000 government security forces. Thus far, the US and the Taliban have maintained a tentative ceasefire, though it remains unclear whether or not that ceasefire extends to Afghan security forces.
The UN has unanimously backed the deal. The resolution urged for intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, something that negotiations between the US and Taliban have lacked. Zarlasht Halaimzai, director of the Refugee Trauma Initiative, criticized the deal for excluding Afghans, stating, “the aim of the talks was not peace. It’s a hasty withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, and many Afghans are afraid that it’s a drive to privatize the war.” She added, “the talks didn’t include the Afghans – they didn’t include the Afghan civil society, [and they] didn’t include the Afghan government, which, with all its faults, is a democratically elected government.”
On March 14, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed the release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners, arguing that he wanted more time to review the list of prisoners that would be discharged. Differing from the US-Taliban deal, Ghani had promised to release 100 prisoners a day, starting March 14, for 15 days until 1,500 prisoners were released. The government would release the remaining 3,500 after the start of intra-Afghan talks, contingent upon a reduction of violence from the Taliban. Since the deal went into effect, more than 80 attacks have already taken place, mainly targeting and killing members of the Afghan security forces, prompting concerns over the strength intra-Afghan talks.
While America’s departure from Afghanistan is regarded almost universally as a positive on all sides, the benchmarks for what constitutes peace still remain unclear. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill heavily scrutinized the classified annexes before they were signed. Republican Representative Liz Cheney commented that “any deal that the United States would contemplate entering into with the Taliban should be made public in its entirety.” Tom Malinowski, a Democratic representative of New Jersey and former State Department official, asserted, “in short, this is not a peace agreement. It is a fig leaf for withdrawal and for abandoning our Afghan allies.” He went on to say “the worst option is to tell the American people a fairy tale about peace so that we feel less guilty about leaving, or so Trump can brag that he made a deal.”
Concerns remain over how this new reality will affect the rights of women, religious freedom, and democratic institutions. The hard work of rebuilding the country is still in the future.
(Sources: Time, NPR, Aljazeera, ABC, AP, Washington Post, Crooked Media)