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On Saturday, American negotiators signed an agreement with the Taliban that sets the stage for the U.S. to end its war in Afghanistan after 18 years of conflict.
The agreement lays out a timetable for the roughly 12,000 U.S. troops in the country to gradually withdraw over a span of 14 months. The deal is contingent on the Taliban’s upholding its end of the bargain, which includes blocking terror groups from planning attacks against the U.S and opening discussions on a long-term peace deal with the Afghan government.
In 1996, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and imposed a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law. The U.S. invaded in 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, which were planned by al-Qaida leaders under the Taliban’s protection. The war quickly disrupted al-Qaida’s operations in the country and toppled the Taliban regime, but the conflict has dragged on through three U.S. presidential administrations as attempts to establish a stable Afghan government have floundered.
More than 2,400 Americans have died since the start of the war. An estimated 43,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Before the deal was signed, a seven-day reduction in violence was observed by all sides. On Monday, however, the Taliban said it was resuming its attacks on government forces.
Why there’s debate
Supporters of the agreement see it as a much-needed acknowledgment that diplomacy, rather than military force, is the answer to lasting order in Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called the deal a “roadmap to peace, security and stability.” The U.S. can use its influence to help the country establish a government that includes the Taliban, which will mean disputes will be settled through politics instead of bloodshed, proponents argue.
Critics of the deal are pessimistic that the Taliban will maintain its end of the agreement once American troops clear out. There are also questions about whether the fractured Afghan government can reach a peace agreement with a force it has been battling for almost two decades. If those talks fall through, it could spark a civil war that could ultimately see the Taliban back in control in Kabul, some fear. Others argue that President Trump pursued the deal as a political win for his reelection, rather than what’s best for the Afghan people.
Women in Afghanistan have expressed concerns that many of the gains they have made since the fall of the Taliban could be at risk if the fundamentalist group once again gains influence in the country.
President Trump said he had a “very good talk” with Taliban leaders over the phone on Tuesday. He previously said he would be meeting with them “in the not-too-distant future.” The U.S. is planning to begin its drawdown by pulling 5,000 troops out of the country in the next four to five months. If the Taliban breaks from the agreement, the U.S. will respond with “decisive military force,” Esper said.
Even a flawed peace would have been impossible in recent years
“This is the first moment in almost 20 years of conflict involving the United States that there’s a real chance that there could be a political resolution or a peaceful settlement to the war. It’s important to recognize the significance of this moment even if it doesn’t pan out in a real end of the fighting.” — Missy Ryan, Washington Post
The Afghan military is strong enough to keep the Taliban in line
“From a military standpoint, the Afghans are in a much better place today. Over the last three years, Afghanistan’s forces have shown they can carry out better-coordinated, intensified military operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Afghan forces are not perfect by any means, but their improved military record has shown that the Taliban can’t conquer Kabul and take over as they did from 1996 to 2001.” — Rebecca Grant, Fox News
Any step toward peace should be celebrated
“The country has been so scarred by violence — tens of thousands of Afghan civilians killed, a generation of women widowed, the security forces barely able to recruit enough to replace their losses — that even a vague prospect of peace is welcome.” — Fatima Faizi and Najim Rahim, New York Times
The Taliban has learned that extremism will lead to its destruction
“Assuming its peace deal with the U.S. stays on track, Taliban representatives should be expected to work hard towards building its image in [Muslim-majority countries]. ... In time, we may even see mainstreamed Taliban politicians participate in think-tank talks in the U.S., and even be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” — Tom Hussain, South China Morning Post
The Taliban can’t be trusted
“Most Afghans and many outside the Trump administration rightly remain wary of the Taliban’s promises and intentions. The group’s basic beliefs, its conduct while in power before 9/11 and its failure to keep its promises in the past are all grounds for circumspection.” — Javid Ahmad and Husain Haqqani, The Hill
A peace agreement with the Afghan government is far from certain
This deal now opens the door to wide-ranging talks between the militants and Afghan political leaders. But these discussions will be much more challenging.” — Secunder Kermani, BBC
The Taliban could soon retake control of Afghanistan
“After the Nixon administration negotiated the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in the early 1970s, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to significantly reduce all security assistance for the pro-American government in Saigon. The North Vietnamese were able to topple it soon after. In a few months, Nixon’s “peace with honor” became a dishonorable surrender. In Afghanistan, America is in danger of repeating that mistake.” — Eli Lake, Bloomberg
Trump may rush the withdrawal for political purposes
“Critics fear that as his reelection campaign moves into full swing this summer, Trump may order troop withdrawals whether or not the looming Afghan peace talks go smoothly, in order to be seen as delivering on his promise to end an era of lengthy U.S. overseas wars.” — Tracy Wilkinson and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times
Women’s rights are under threat
“Understandably, it’s time for the U.S. to try get out of the war, but the U.S. has all this leverage … and so a lot of Afghan women are saying, ‘Please use your leverage and require the Taliban to accept the rights that women now have and don’t abandon us,’ and the Trump administration won’t give a clear answer.” — Dan De Luce, MSNBC
It will be difficult to enforce a ceasefire throughout the country
“Even if both sides agree on all these issues, Afghanistan might not be ready for the day after peace. Thousands of Taliban fighters, as well as heavily armed militiamen loyal to different Afghan warlords who have become powerful in 18 years of alliance with the West, may not want to put down their guns and abide by the deal.” — Kathy Gannon, Associated Press
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