America’s longest foreign war is set to end but, whether that will have a long-term impact on the Mideast remains unclear. The Trump administration’s new peace agreement will have a wider impact on the Mideast, and re-orientate U.S. foreign policy there.
The framework lays out several steps the Taliban must take to ensure a lasting peace.
The Taliban have pledged under the terms of the accord to sever all ties with al-Qaida and other international terrorist groups. They have also committed to sit down for peace talks with other Afghans, including the internationally recognized government that they have always denounced as a puppet of America.
In return, Washington will begin a gradual withdrawal of troops.
This is something previous U.S. administrations have long hoped for.
Troop levels will be reduced to 8,600 over the next 135 days and five U.S. bases will be closed. If the two sides honor their commitments, all U.S. military forces could leave Afghanistan by the spring of 2021, although Washington will likely want to keep intelligence agents on the ground to ISIS and the diminished al-Qaida presence there.
The agreement also promises a prisoner swap ahead of the Afghan peace talks scheduled to start on March 10. The Afghan government will release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for insurgents releasing some 1,000 government soldiers held in crude captivity.
But Kabul, which currently holds these Taliban fighters, is not a party to the agreement and it's unclear whether it will be willing to release enemy fighters on an active battlefield.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has not commented on the agreement.
The longtime enemies sealed the pact in front of a sign saying "Agreement to restore peace in Afghanistan" after a week of "reducing violence."
The quasi-ceasefire was intended to demonstrate the militants' ability to control their forces in the field, but also gave the country a rare taste for something like peace.
Civil war, in one form or another, has torn Afghanistan apart over 40 years.
With the majority of the population under the age of 30, most have experienced only conflict. It is therefore very encouraging that efforts to negotiate the end of the war have gone this far and true peace seems close at hand.
The United States entered Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Taliban were quickly expelled from Kabul, Tora Bora, and other regions.
Al-Qaida was forced to flee, in a war that has become the face of the global war on terror.
Yet, early successes were followed by nearly two decades of brutal insurgency.
According to U.S. President Donald Trump, the war in Afghanistan was a failure and one he has long wanted to end.
The agreement is part of a larger "Trump Doctrine" — a set of policies that are driving the United States to withdraw from certain parts of the world and refocus on core national interests.
The danger could be that hostile forces around the world learn that the U.S. may cut its losses at any time.
The Taliban know that the Trump administration’s desire for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is one of the few things that unites today's polarized American electorate.
The Taliban have demonstrated with their recent ceasefire an ability to control their forces in the field, and will likely do so until the last foreign forces have left Afghan soil.
The Taliban could even use the respite to deal with ISIS with whom they have repeatedly clashed in recent years. Once U.S. forces have withdrawn or largely withdrawn, the Taliban will undoubtedly abandon their commitments to lay down their arms and resume the offensive against the government in Kabul.
In the long term, we cannot trust the Taliban.
The U.S. must remain vigilant to the possibility that were the Taliban to re-capture Kabul (as they did in the late 1990s) they would restore Shariah law, and potentially resume their clandestine support for al-Qaida and possibly other terrorist organizations.
This agreement aside, the Trump administration must understand that the national security of the United States will require continuous involvement in Afghanistan and the wider Mideast, by providing military support to the elected government of Afghanistan and elsewhere — until the behavior of terrorist groups and terrorist regimes change permanently.
Such an outcome is not foreseeable at present given that each organization has its own objectives, theological tendencies, and justifications.
Then, and only then, can we hail a true cease fire in and for the region.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan Publisher. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council in Washington and International Councillors at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's also on the Board of Trustees of the The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and member of The National Interest’s Advisory Council. Mr. Charai is a Mid-East policy advisor in Washington whose articles have appeared in the major U.S. media. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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