GP Insights

GP Insights # 284, 7 March 2020

Afghanistan: Is the US- Taliban deal collapsing?
Sukanya Bali

What happened?
On 1 March, Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan objected the prisoner swap, which would lead to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners against 1,000 Afghan security force captives, after the signing of the US and Taliban peace deal on 29 February, in Doha. Soon after the objection, a blast hit in Kost province of eastern Afghanistan, killing three and wounding 11 Afghans. The attack was claimed by the Taliban. 

Taliban responded, by resuming its offensive operation against Afghan security forces and refused from taking part in intra-Afghan talk until the Afghan government, agreed on prisoner's release. The US carried out the first air raid after the deal against the Taliban in Helmand in retaliation to 43 attacks on Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) checkpoint and army point, in Kunduz and Uruzgan province. Colonel Sonny Leggett on Wednesday called the air raid as a defensive strike against Taliban fighter attack. 

On 3 March, US President Donald Trump and Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, had their first direct discussion. Trump called the 35-minute long call, "a very good talk". Later, Trump stated the US Secretary Mike Pompeo would speak to Ashraf Ghani, "so the barrier against intra-Afghan dialogue gets removed". After two days, in a news conference, Pompeo said, "all sides should stop posturing and prepare for the intra-Afghan negotiation, including practical discussion about prisoner release". 

On 6 March, a ceremony marking the death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader, was attacked by ISIS leading to the death of 27 and left 29 wounded, in Kabul. 

What is the background?
The deal signed between the US and the Taliban focused on four main points,

First, a timeline of 14 months for the withdrawal of all the US and the NATO troops from Afghanistan. The draw out will limit the US armed force to 8,600 from 13,000 in the first 135 days. Second, an agenda for negotiating on a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement between rival groups in Afghanistan. Third, to begin an intra-Afghan dialogue on 10 March. Also, the deal proposed the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security force captives.  Fourth, the Taliban guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used as a launchpad against the US. 

The deal between the US and the Taliban was signed after several rounds of negotiations led by Zalmay Khalilzad, a US special envoy. The Afghan government was side-lined from the talks as the Taliban refused to engage with them and called them the 'puppet government'.  The deal failed to recognize the other extremist groups like ISIS into consideration while structuring the peace negotiations between the US and the Taliban. 

Additionally, on 5 March, Piotr Hofmanski the presiding judge of International Criminal Court, ICC authorized prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, to launch a full investigation in war crimes committed in Afghanistan by the US, Taliban, and Afghan government. Honfmanski said, 'Bensouda should proceed and not limit her investigation to preliminary finding as that would erroneously inhibit the prosecution truth-seeking function'. 

What does it mean? 
First, the resumption of violence between Taliban and Afghan forces indicates a crack in the deal within seven days of signing. It also shows Taliban's unwillingness to make any further concessions.  Second, Ashraf Ghani's objection over prisoner swap indicates the Afghan government's disregard towards the US-Taliban peace deal. On a similar line, the US cold responses over the objection show, that the US is unwilling to be part of internal Afghan issues again.  Third, other than the three major actors in Afghanistan, ISIS's recent attack may create further problems in the deal to prosper.  Fourth, the second most important aspect of the deal the intra- Afghan talks, may see difficulties in discussing women's rights, rights of minorities and governance in Afghanistan considering the Taliban's violent responses. 

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