News Analysis: U.S.-Taliban deal provides hope for ending war in Afghanistan but uncertainty remains

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-02 00:39:37|Editor: huaxia

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Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, March 1, 2020. (Xinua/Rahmatullah Alizadah)

Though the agreement provides hope for the United States to end its almost two-decade war as well as lasting peace in the conflict-stricken country, thorny issues still remain, said experts.

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Xinhua) -- The United States signed a deal with Afghan Taliban on Saturday, framing American troops' future exit from Afghanistan and intra-Afghan negotiations.

Though the agreement provides hope for the United States to end its almost two-decade war as well as lasting peace in the conflict-stricken country, thorny issues still remain, said experts.


OPENING THE DOOR

Representatives of the United States and the Taliban signed the long-awaited pact in the Qatari capital city of Doha, calling for a gradual withdrawal of the U.S. troops if the Taliban negotiates with the Afghan government and cuts ties with terrorist groups.

According to a joint statement released by the U.S. and Afghan governments on Saturday ahead of the signing, the United States is going to reduce its troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days after signing the agreement.

Further withdrawal will depend on Taliban's meeting of conditions related to counter-terrorism, the statement added.

Speaking at a press conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani expressed confidence that the country will "have a national consensus on peace."

"We have the political will and the capacity to make peace because of the resilience of our society, the dynamism of our economy and the capability of our state. Afghanistan is a sovereign state. It is an independent country," he said.

The pact came after over one year's on-and-off negotiations between the two sides and a "seven-day reduction of violence" across Afghanistan.

"The agreement is Washington's best hope of ending the longest American war," noted Carter Malkasian, who served as senior adviser to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019.

"The United States has missed too many opportunities over the course of its long Afghan war. It need not do so again," Malkasian added.

According to the deal, the United States is going to reduce its troops to 8,600 in Afghanistan within 135 days, and will, together with its NATO allies, completely pull out the remaining troops in the following 14 months if the Taliban sticks to its commitments.

Besides, the pact also sets the stage for intra-Afghan talks which are expected to begin in early March.

The value of the agreement lies in "opening the door to an Afghan peace process," said Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Program at the think tank International Crisis Group.

Local people celebrate the peace agreement between U.S. and Taliban in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, Feb. 29, 2020. (Photo by Sanaullah Siam/Xinhua)

NOT A "PEACE DEAL" ITSELF

Experts also cautioned that it is a step toward negotiations but not a "peace agreement" itself.

Important though it is, the agreement is not actually a peace deal, said Miller. "It is a chance to get one," she added.

"The agreement will break the logjam of the Taliban's longstanding unwillingness to sit in talks with the Afghan government and other Afghan power brokers without first achieving an American commitment to withdraw forces," she noted.

The deal itself would neither end the war nor bring all American troops home, wrote John Allen, president of the Brookings Institute, in an article published at the think tank's website.

To Allen and two other co-writers of the article, what is more essential is the second phase of the deal which includes a complete U.S.-NATO troop departure and a real Afghan power-sharing agreement.

"At present, we are a long way from any such agreement -- even though President Trump would love to be able to announce a U.S. withdrawal by November," noted Allen, taking into account the upcoming U.S. elections at the end of the year.

"It is to be hoped that this U.S.-Taliban agreement will indeed lead to vastly decreased violence and casualties on both sides," said James Cunningham, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters attend a surrender ceremony in Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2020. (Photo by Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua)

FUTURE THREATS

Experts think the next stage of talks will be really tough as they will have to tackle thornier issues, which could consume a year or even longer.

"The withdrawal of U.S. military personnel could allow a terrorist threat to grow," Malkasian wrote in an article published at Foreign Affairs magazine.

To Cunningham, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, what America needs is "caution and realism."

Taliban fighters attend a surrender ceremony in Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2020. (Photo by Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua)

"That ... requires that the United States, under either a Republican or Democratic president, dispense with the argument that the 'forever war' in Afghanistan can be ended without regard to the consequences for Afghanistan and the impact on U.S. security," he said.

"America might find a way out of this war, at least temporarily -- but Afghanistan most likely will not, and the region could again descend into the type of anarchy that allowed al-Qaeda to establish a foothold there more than 20 years ago," said Allen.

"That is not an experiment that anyone should want to run," he noted.

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