The recently signed agreement between the United States and Taliban offers a clear path for the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Less clear, however, is the path to real lasting peace in the country.
Nearly two decades into America’s longest war, the Taliban are resurgent while Afghanistan is the country where civilians are most likely to be killed by terrorists. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace 2019 Global Terrorism Index, there was a 71% increase in terrorist attacks in 2018. In fact, approximately 50% of the global victims of terror are Afghans.
Security remains the number one challenge to economic and human development in Afghanistan. U.S. Air Forces Central Command recently reported that the United States dropped 7,423 bombs in Afghanistan in 2019, a new record high since 2010. And following the recent weeklong reduction in violence, Taliban leaders announced they will resume attacks on Afghan security forces.
After taking office, President Donald Trump quickly came to realize that the war in Afghanistan could not be won militarily. However, by engaging the Taliban in negotiations without including the legitimate Afghan government and other key Afghan stakeholders, he undermined chances for a stable peace following troop departures. This approach legitimized the Taliban and bolstered regional interventionists.
Although ending American participation in an unwinnable war is necessary, there will be a strong temptation, if not need, to return unless there is real peace. This may very well lead to air and drone operations without a ground presence. Five major steps need to be taken to end the war responsibly:
A comprehensive cease-fire: Only a comprehensive cease-fire can create the right atmosphere for intra-Afghan talks to bear fruit. It is the responsibility of the United States, the Taliban, and all Afghan stakeholders engaged at any level to work collectively toward a full cease-fire, prevent the killing of innocent civilians, and create the trust needed for intra-Afghan talks to succeed.
A neutral mediator: The U.S.-Taliban accord left out representation of the Afghan people. A neutral third-party mediator such as Norway must lead engagement of all stakeholders and address appropriate metrics of a potential peace accord.
Third-party guarantors: If a comprehensive peace deal is reached, who will monitor and enforce it once American troops have withdrawn? Third-party guarantors are needed to assure the agreement is upheld by all parties.
Rehabilitation of ex-combatants: The U.S.-Taliban agreement calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 “prisoners of the other side.” Such a rapid release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners without a formal rehabilitation mechanism in place can only lead to further destabilization of the Afghan government and society. Proper rehabilitation and reintegration mechanisms must be put in place so fighters don’t return to the battlefield.
Protect human rights and women’s rights: Intra-Afghan talks must fully and meaningfully engage women, minorities and youth. Protecting the human rights of all Afghans is essential if peace is to hold long term.
Afghans have suffered sustained violence for four decades. If the course of the current policy is not corrected, the future is sure to lead to a much bloodier Afghan civil war and a deeper American quagmire.
Unfortunately, the United States played a critical role in aiding warlords and fueling corruption and insecurity in Afghanistan. Simply handing the country to the Taliban in the name of a quick exit will neither result in peace nor halt the terror. Instead, it will set the stage for a near-term return of American forces.
Peace may not be a quick fix, but it is the only fix that lasts.
Shukria Dellawar is a legislative representative for the prevention of violent conflict at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and policy director for the Afghanistan Peace Campaign.