Washington signed a deal with the Taliban, but this is not the end of the war

by Giuliano Bifolchi

The US – Taliban deal should be only interpreted as an agreement between Washington and a specific group of Taliban for the safe passage for the US troops withdrawal. The agreement was welcomed as a success in diplomacy although the war in the country cannot be considered over since in Afghanistan several factions of Taliban and different terrorist groups connected to external actors are operating.

The US President Donald Trump promoted the deal with the Taliban as a success in foreign diplomacy and a step forward for the US disengagement in Afghanistan according to his presidential campaign slogan ‘American First’. If the former US President Barack Obama and the former State Secretary Hillary Clinton failed in ‘bringing the boys back home’, it seems that Donald Trump is keeping his electoral campaign’s promises without considering the consequences for Afghanistan and the regional stability.

Even though the document signed between Washington and the Taliban contains a sort of measures which might lead to a negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan people, the recent Taliban attacks against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces which caused more than 25 victims highlighted how far is the peaceful solution in the country. The following US airstrike against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj in the Helmand province as a response of the Taliban attacks confirms the fact that Washington has conducted negotiations with only a group of the Taliban and that the peace deal is fragile and far from being the perfect solution.

Furthermore, the deal represents a failure for the US foreign policy and the ‘War on Terror’ wanted by George W. Bush since in 2001 the US-led coalition forces attacked Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden after the 9/11. Even though Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 during the Obama Administration, al-Qaeda is still an international threat and the world has experienced the rise of different terrorist groups, first among all the Islamic State.

Also, although the White House has always declared the impossibility to interact and negotiate with terrorist groups, for the first time the deal with the Taliban exposes the United States to the international critics and reveals a more pragmatic US approach regarding issues related to terrorism. In this case, it appears that Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan is based on the assumption that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ because in exchange of the abolition of the sanctions the Taliban promised to cut their link with al-Qaeda and fight the presence of the Islamic State in the country.

Since 2001 the war in Afghanistan has caused beyond 300,000 civilian casualties, thousands of deaths among the coalition forces and the Taliban, and a huge waste of money poured inside the country to improve the democratic process and economic development without tangible results.

The current Afghan government, which is not recognized as legitimate by the Taliban, is living an internal crisis and a confrontation between the neo re-elected president Ashraf Ghani and his premier Abdullah Abdullah. Indeed, a weak and divided government cannot be considered able to take part in the negotiations with the Taliban as requested by US President Donald Trump.

Even though the US troops withdrawal is far to be accomplished soon, if the United States will abandon Afghanistan they will create a vacuum of power which can lead to a civil war as happened during the ‘90s after the Russo – Afghan War (1979 – 1989) or make China or the Russian Federation more involved in the country. Beijing has been hugely implicated in the Afghan economic development investing a significant amount of money in infrastructural projects with the aim at supporting the realization of the Belt and Road Initiative which needs stability in the Asian continent. At the same time, Moscow has always been interested in Afghanistan and has never renounced the idea of increasing its influence in Afghan domestic politics.

The US disengagement in Afghanistan can be also interpreted as Washington’s strategy of making more unstable and insecure Afghanistan and entire Central Asia because this area is fundamental for the success of the Belt and Road Initiative and part of the lebensraum (vital space) of the Russian Federation. Nowadays China is facing the economic consequences of Covid-19 while Russia is still trying to diversify its economy which hugely depends on oil and gas revenues and was seriously affected by oil price crisis and Western sanctions. If Washington will leave Afghanistan Moscow and Beijing will be forced to increase their presence in the country although they do not currently have enough financial and political resources to face Afghan domestic and Central Asian problems.