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Afghanistan: from “Enduring Freedom” to “Enduring Peace”
After 18 years of war, the USA and the Taliban insurgents decided to conclude an agreement that many analysts considered as having a historical dimension and significance. It is meant to pave the way for the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, as well as for the start of a peace process between the insurgents and the government in Kabul led by the president Ashraf Ghani – who wasn’t present in Doha for the negotiations, as it is seen by the Islamist Taliban as a “US and Western puppet”.

A Brief Remember

-      On the 5th of February 1989, the former Soviet Union withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan, following a 10-year war in support of the pro-Soviet communist regime in Kabul.

-      12 years later, on the 7th of October 2001, the USA launched the operation “Enduring Freedom” against the Taliban insurgents accused of supporting the terrorist network Al-Qaeda, which was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

-      In January 2015, operation “Resolute Support” was launched by NATO in Afghanistan. At the peak of the expedition in Afghanistan, US and coalition forces amounted to 98,000 troops. On the 20th of February 2020, their number reached 16,500 people of 38 countries, the main human contributions coming from the USA (8000), Germany (1300), the UK (1100), Italy (900), Georgia (870) and Romania (800).

-      On the 30th of September 2019, the Pentagon estimated that between 32,000 and 60,000 Afghan civilians have died as direct and indirect casualties of war.

-      According to the same source, the total costs of the campaign in Afghanistan has reached 776 billion USD, however Other US sources (Brown University) say that the amount reaches 6,400 billion USD.

-      After two years and several rounds of peace negotiations, on the 29th of February 2020 a ceasefire agreement was signed in Doha (the capital of Qatar). The agreement was signed by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the political co-founder of the Taliban movement.

 The First Analyses

     After 18 years of war, the USA and the Taliban insurgents decided to conclude an agreement that many analysts considered as having a historical dimension and significance. It is meant to pave the way for the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, as well as for the start of a peace process between the insurgents and the government in Kabul led by the president Ashraf Ghani – who wasn’t present in Doha for the negotiations, as it is seen by the Islamist Taliban as a “US and Western puppet”.

     A first analysis of the document on the 29th of February highlights the fundamental reality deriving from its scope and the real chances for an overall and long-lasting pacification of Afghanistan. And we are specifically referring to the fact that the Doha Agreement is, first of all, a military agreement between the foreign troops who fought in Afghanistan, on one hand, and the Islamist political and military entities who have fought under the generic name of Taliban Movement, on the other.

     However, the agreement isn’t, at the same time one between the Taliban insurgents, on one hand, and the civil society and the government in Kabul led by Ashraf Ghani (who, just like his predecessor, Hamis Kharzai is accused by the Islamists of being “a US tool and puppet”), on the other.

The signatories of the agreement, Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, source: https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/

     One may say it is an agreement where diplomacy has made use of Clausewitz’s famous definition, in the sense that it has manifested itself as a “war by other means” leading to the following:

     1. The Taliban will give up all connections to Islamist terrorism associated to Al-Qaida and possibly ISIS.

     2. In 14 months’ time all foreign expeditionary forces – whether US or NATO – will withdraw from Afghanistan.

     3. Only after these two - mostly military - objectives have been reached will the Afghan political peace process, social contract and reconciliation among all Afghans be launched.

Afghan Peace – An Equation More Complicated than War

      Afghanistan is a geopolitical and polymorphic area much more complicated than shown by the binary propaganda of “good guys/bad guys”. The experience of a 30-year war with two of the greatest world powers – not to forget the British occupation, which ended in 1919 – resulted in the slow, but progressive erosion of the tribal fault lines between the 20 major ethnic communities, between the tribal traditionalism and the birth of the idea of a modern Afghan state, more and more aware of the fact that it has a national identity. However, this nation claims all the ethic, linguistic and confessional segments as its own, the representativeness of its identity in connection to all the other social segments and especially in connection to the foreign expansionist interferences. On the other hand, the same historical experience, deeply rooted in the collective mind, makes the Afghan society to be perceived not as a coherent entity dedicated to the common prosperity, but more like a conjunction of local client communities motivated by custom-like, confessional, cultural linguistic and mercantile subnational interests. Hence a dynamic fragmentation of the Afghan chessboard, which hosts various players – the tribal leaders, the political and military communalism, the confessional insurgents and the Afghan establishment, whose relationship is strongly undermined by mutual suspicion, scepticism, as well as conflictual and competitive feeling.

Twenty Years Later

     Given the fact that the “Afghan peace” was negotiated between the USA and the confessional insurgency, one may say that the Doha agreement on the 29th of February is a deal. Besides the US withdrawal from Afghanistan – that president Donald Trump promised ever since the electoral campaign – the deal is meant to create the proper setting for a political peace process; nevertheless, it is entirely a “family business” that doesn’t effectively engage the insurgents, nor Ashraf Ghani’s government in a process to negotiate a course of action meant to move Afghanistan from war to peace. Moreover, even the name of the document is confusing, dense and subject to interpretation. Thus, in Doha was signed an “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America”.

     The next 35 days following its signing, which is by 10th of April, the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be decreased from 16,000 to 8,600 and five bases of the international coalition closed down. The rest of the troops will be withdrawn within 14 months. As for political peace, the document mentions that the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”. We must highlight the fact that there is no mention of an obligation for the Taliban to “start” the peace negotiations and that we find the answer to the question regarding “whom will the Taliban negotiate with” equally confusing, since the government in Kabul has not been part of the peace negotiations in Doha (and therefore not obliged to accept the Islamist “initiative”) nor did the Taliban recognise the authority of this government. What drew our attention in this regard was the warning of the secretary of defence Mark Esper, who said that “if the Taliban do not fulfil their obligations, they will lose the opportunity to sit at the negotiating table with the Afghans and discuss the future of their country”. In this case, the US won’t hesitate to terminate the agreement. For his part, the secretary of state Mike Pompeo stated: “I know there will be a temptation to declare victory. But victory – victory for Afghans – will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper”.

     In the name of the Afghan government, the document proposes the release of 5000 insurgent prisoners, in exchange for 1000 governmental prisoners. This provision was rejected the very next day by the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, with the argument that it is an intra-Afghan matter and a foreign interference in the matters of Kabul’s sovereign government. It was a first obstacle on the path to national reconciliation.

     The armistice agreement states that the withdrawal process of the US troops from Afghanistan starts in the first decade of March. Which is what happened on the 9th of March when US officials announced the beginning of the repatriation of US troops deployed on Afghan soil. According to general Scott Miller, the commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan, it is not a “rotation” or a “refreshment” of troops but a reduction within 14 months from 13,000 people (at present) to 8,600; these troops will continue to provide assistance to the Afghan military and to fight against terrorism.

     From the point of view of Afghanistan’s demilitarization and its transition from war - with the Islamist insurgents - to peace, the promptness with which the USA started to the implement the agreement signed on the 29th of February cannot be but welcomed. However, the process of political pacification is shaping up to be delicate and difficult, as not only the political and institutional systems, but also the entire Afghan society are marked by severe disagreements and rifts which put into question the perspective of an intra-Afghan national consensus. And a first warning sign was given by the very leaders of the Afghan establishment. Thus, the new president, Ashraf Ghani (who barely won his second presidential mandate last September), as well as his opponent Abdullah Abdullah (who claimed electoral fraud and proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan) celebrated by separated rallies their “investitures” and risked opening the door for a double-headed state leadership. Or, a reiteration in Afghanistan of the situation in Libya would be a serious threat and challenge to a domestic dialogue which could, even before its start, light the spark of a civil war in this country. Regional and local diplomatic circles are talking about the possibility of initiating political negotiations, in Oslo (Norway), however, this involves overcoming some of the deepest resentments and uncertainties. On one side, the Taliban keep on accusing the president Ashraf Ghani of being a Western and US puppet, while his followers advertise his past as a “warlord” and “supporter of the Islamic Jihad”. Besides, another development which complicates the situation takes shape. We are referring to the return on the political chessboard of Ahmad Massoud (the son of the legendary military commander Massoud and fierce enemy of the Taliban), who announced the formation of a new political party and called on all “true Afghans” to join him in his fight against the Taliban ambitions of reinstating the radical Islamist regime removed from power upon the intervention of the US troops. The 30 years old Ahmad Massoud graduated from the Sandhurst Military Academy in UK and seeks the resurgence of the Northern League led by his father, in order to attract the true Mujahedeen fighting against radical Islam and to set the country on the path to modernity and democracy. “Hundreds of thousands of young men are ready to take arms and join us” stated Ahmad Massoud. Which suggests an unwanted perspective of a never-ending Afghan civil war.

Ahmad Masoud, source: https://gandhara.rferl.org/

     The Doha agreement isn’t perfect; however, it is a first step towards ending the war and taking the road to peace.

     20 years later, there still is a chance that following the bloody “Enduring Freedom” operation, Afghanistan would transition to a welcome “Enduring Peace” operation. This can only happen if the Afghans themselves understand this imperative, to whose accomplishment the international community, through the United Nations can bring a necessary and valuable contribution.