With a peace deal signed between the Taliban and the US, what are the prospects for Afghanistan?

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US military forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, making it their longest war. US President Donald Trump indicated in February 2019 that he would extricate the US from “endless wars”, but the Administration’s first attempt at a peace deal with the Taliban fell apart at the last moment in September 2019.

The Administration soon re-started talks, however, and in February 2020 announced that a deal had been signed. The major elements of the agreement were:

  • The US to draw down its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days (with proportionate decreases in allied force levels) and withdraw all of its forces within 14 months.
  • The US to remove sanctions on Taliban members by August 2020
  • The US to facilitate prisoner exchange between the Afghan Government and the Taliban
  • The Taliban to commit to not allowing members of the Taliban or other groups, including al-Qaeda, to use Afghan soil to threaten the US or its allies, including by preventing recruiting, training, and fundraising for such activities.
  • The Taliban to start intra-Afghan negotiations by March 2020.There are widespread concerns that the withdrawal, which will include personnel from other NATO countries, could lead to more widespread and intense conflict in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban has committed not to allow Afghanistan to be a base for terrorist attacks against the US and its allies, links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda (and other terrorist groups) are still strong.Afghanistan has always been the stage for the rivalry of larger countries, and that remains the case. Afghanistan’s neighbours may intensify their struggle for influence after US forces withdraw, exacerbating longstanding ethnic divisions by backing proxies. Entrenched disputes between, for example, India and Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia and Iran, could be played out in Afghanistan.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has hit Afghanistan’s already inadequate health service hard. The UN has reported that both the Taliban and Afghan Government forces have attacked healthcare facilities.
  • An Afghan Government was finally assembled in 2020 after disputed presidential elections in 2019. That removed one obstacle to intra-Afghan talks, but some analysts fear that the Taliban may be waiting for the US to withdraw before trying to bring the Government down. Whether the US and its allies maintain funding for the Government and the Afghan National Security Forces will be crucial for the Government’s survival.
  • In June 2020 the US was slightly ahead of schedule in the drawdown of troops but there was little sign of substantive negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan Government.
  • Commons Research Briefing CBP-8975
  • Author: Ben Smith
  • Topics: Asia Pacific

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