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article imageOp-Ed: US envoy says Afghan peace deal with Taliban agreed in principle

By Ken Hanly     Sep 3, 2019 in Politics
US negotiator, special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad reports that the US and Taliban have agreed to a peace deal in principle and is pending approval by US President Trump. The Afghan government has been given a copy of the deal.
Details of the plan have not been made publicly available
Negotiators however have said that the deal would see some 5,000 US ground troops withdraw from Afghanistan within the first five months. In return the Taliban would agree to keep ISIS and al-Qaeda out of the country and reduce violence.
Previous reports have suggested that all US and other foreign troops would be withdrawn. There is no information as to what would happen to the other 8,000 or more other troops in the country. One would think that there would be a cease fire between at least the US and Taliban and ideally with the Afghan government as well. Otherwise there is no reason for the Taliban to stop attacking the government. What does reducing violence come to? Who determines if violence has been reduced sufficiently?
The Taliban have always demanded that all foreign troops withdraw in any deal
It is hard to believe that the Taliban would agree to a deal in which one of their basic demands is not met. What could explain the situation is that there are other parts of the agreement that say that all foreign forces will withdraw one the expected power sharing negotiations with the Afghans have reached a deal. No doubt the US would like to see US troops stay in Afghanistan to ensure that the Taliban simply do not become the government again but come to an agreement on power sharing.
Trump has said that the US would always have a presence in Afghanistan. Such a claim seems to make any deal unlikely, as the Taliban will not agree with a continued presence of the US unless they give up one of their key demands. There is likely an agreement on a time line for full withdrawal in the agreement but this has not been revealed as yet.
Some in the White House want more CIA in Afghanistan
As the troops leave some in the Trump administration want to see more CIA agents sent to Afghanistan. There is an apparent debate about this both with the CIA and the military. Such a move would surely raise red flags for the Taliban who would not agree to have a greater CIA presence replacing the withdrawn troops. Such a move would make it unlikely that the Taliban would accept any such deal.
A recent article notes: "Senior White House advisers have proposed secretly expanding the C.I.A.’s presence in Afghanistan if international forces begin to withdraw from the country, according to American officials. But C.I.A. and military officials have expressed reservations, prompting a debate in the administration that could complicate negotiations with the Taliban to end the war." The secret is now out and could complicate approval of the agreement in principle.
Taliban Shura Council to review deal
Another barrier that could prevent an agreement is the review of it by the Taliban Shura Council. As a recent article reports: "The Afghan Taliban’s powerful “Rehbari Shura” or leadership council will review the draft agreement with the US when it is shared with its members, a Taliban leader said on Monday."
It is unlikely that the Council would approve any agreement without a definite time table for US and foreign withdrawal. According to one article the Taliban had demanded a nine month withdrawal period but the US wanted 18. The Taliban had later suggested a compromise of 14 months. It is not clear that this was ever accepted. It may have been rejected when brought to the Shura Council.
Trump also needs to approve the agreement
There is unlikely to be anything in the agreement about the US maintaining a presence in Afghanistan. Trump has even claimed as late as the end of August that 8,600 US troops will remain in the country. This could make sense as a reference to those who would remain after the first 5,000 withdraw. However, the 8,600 are surely to withdraw later as part of the agreement. Trump is probably deliberately misleading people about the deal. It will be interesting to see whether Trump does approve the deal even if it does not allow for a US presence. Hawks in his administration may urge Trump not to agree to the deal.
The agreement seems as if it is unstable in that if the US decides it wants to stay in Afghanistan then it could perhaps encourage the Afghan government not to reach agreement with the Taliban. It would then have an excuse to keep the 8,600 remaining troops in the country. However, then the situation would revert to outright civil war and even with the US forces the Afghans might not be able to halt a Taliban advance.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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