US-Taliban Deal a Fig Leaf Covering Washington's Defeat in 20-Year Long Afghan War, Observers Say
04:00 GMT 05.08.2021 (Updated: 13:21 GMT 06.08.2022)
Washington's deal with the Taliban and hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan is fraught with risks for the Central Asian state, which may face years of conflict and instability, Afghanistan experts say.
The US-backed prisoner swap between Kabul and the Taliban* eventually backfired on the Afghan government as one of its former detainees, a jihadi commander Mawlavi Talib, is now heading a insurgent advance on the key southern city of Lashkargah, according to US, Afghan, and Western officials quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Talib was arrested by Afghan government soldiers in 2020 when attempting to pass through a checkpoint on a road in eastern Helmand. However, he was freed just months later, in accordance with the US-Taliban peace agreement signed in February 2020 in Doha with the aim of ending the 19-year conflict. The release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners was part of this deal and effort to encourage the Islamist group to talk to the Afghan government and negotiate a cease-fire.
However, Donald Trump's defeat in November elections put the deal at risk and led to the postponement of the pull-out, which was initially scheduled for 1 May 2021. Joe Biden's push to reconsider the Doha accords triggered a wave of criticism from the Taliban political wing, who urged Washington to remain committed to the deal or face fierce resistance.
© SputnikA delegation of the Taliban movement
A delegation of the Taliban movement
Furthermore, the Biden administration reportedly attempted to renegotiate conditions for political settlement in Afghanistan specifically downplaying the role Islamic institutions in the country, something that the Taliban vehemently opposed. Although the US president green-lighted the US troops pullout by 11 September 2021, the cease-fire deal between Kabul and the Taliban eventually collapsed. Instead, the Islamist group has been conducting an all-out offensive over the past few months amid US military personnel pulling out of the region.
"The US negotiation with the Taliban was not about peace in Afghanistan. It was not about securing some kind of national reconciliation in Afghanistan. It was about withdrawing US forces. The Trump administration which negotiated with the Taliban was committed to extracting itself from Afghanistan," believes Shahram Akbarzadeh, a professor of Middle East and Central Asian politics at Australia's Deakin University.
The professor highlights that the Afghan government had zero influence over the US-Taliban talks and was forced to deliver on Washington's promises to the Islamist group. He suggests that this "has emboldened the Taliban who see the US unconditional withdrawal as an admission of defeat."
© REUTERS / Danish SiddiquiHumvees that belong to Afghan Special Forces are seen destroyed during heavy clashes with Taliban during the rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021.
Humvees that belong to Afghan Special Forces are seen destroyed during heavy clashes with Taliban during the rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021.
© REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui
"The Taliban are keen to gain as much territory as possible to strengthen their position in relation to the government in Kabul," Akbarzadeh says. "They are trying to gain the upper hand, and they know that the US will not come to the aid of Afghan government forces."
However, it appears that the Taliban's offensive was inevitable regardless of Trump's peace agreement or Biden's flip-flopping, according to Sami Hamdi, political analyst and head of the International Interest, a political risk analysis group.
"The Taliban does not see the peace process as a means but rather a cover for the US to withdraw with whatever grace it has left in Afghanistan, as the Taliban advances on what is increasingly becoming an emphatic victory against the invader, occupier, and global superpower," he underscores.
The political analyst has drawn attention to the fact that the Taliban was making military gains long before the peace process began.
"Donald Trump's decision to withdraw and embark on the peace process was more a recognition of this unfavourable status quo and the futility of the US presence in pushing back the Taliban and imposing the authority of the Afghan government," Hamdi argues.
© AP Photo / Raumat GulTaliban fighters ride in their vehicle in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 16, 2018
Taliban fighters ride in their vehicle in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 16, 2018
© AP Photo / Raumat Gul
Although Biden hesitated before continuing the pullout first announced by his predecessor, he nevertheless ordered the withdrawal by 11 September 2021. According to Hamdi, Biden appears to concur with Trump's assessment that the US cannot win the Afghan War and "has accelerated the US withdrawal, knowing full well the Afghan government is ill-equipped to resist the Taliban onslaught."
Washington's hasty pullout is nothing short of "a disgraceful betrayal of Afghan people," insists Akbarzadeh.
"The US unilateral decision to withdraw without putting in place any political and security framework to protect the Afghan people has put the Afghan government in an impossible position," he says, stressing that the Kabul-Taliban standoff may lead to a vicious cycle of violence and eventual collapse of the state.
"This will be a major regional security challenge in terms of population flows of refugees, traffic of narcotics and Afghan territory becoming a haven for armed militia groups in the region," Akbarzadeh concludes.
*Taliban is designated as a terrorist organisation in Russia and many other countries.