Australian Views of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement: Motivations and Implications

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and President Donald J. Trump at the United Nations General Assembly. Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs/Official White House||

AustralianViews of the US-Taliban PeaceAgreement: Motivations and Implications

Ethan Vujanovic

INTRODUCTION

While some cautious, conditional optimism exists in the Australian academic analyses of the 29 February Peace Agreement between the United States and the Taliban, the prominent sentiment is one of doubt and distrust of the motives and consequences of the deal. Academic perspectives of President Trump’s push for signing a deal with the Taliban revolve around his re-election campaign, and the popularity boost that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan may create. It is suggested that the Taliban wishes to capitalise on the USA’s willingness to exit Afghanistan, in order to perhaps mount a further offensive against the Kabul government, as well as gaining prestige through a bilateral agreement with the US. The content of the agreement itself has attracted strong criticism, especially its lack of inclusion and support of the Afghan government, and absence of any long-term intra-Afghan ceasefire. Interpretations of the implications of this deal for Afghanistan are bleak. Continuing Taliban attacks suggest that the militia will capitalise on fewer NATO troops, and the already weakened Kabul government, to increase its bargaining power and advance its goals.

MOTIVATIONS

It is suggested that the motivations of the Trump Administration to sign such an agreement with the Taliban stem from President Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to end the American involvement in Afghanistan. Professor William Maley suggests that Trump’s motivation in reaching this agreement undoubtedly meets his electoral needs, as he has long harboured “an instinctive disposition to cut and run from Afghanistan”. Furthermore, it is apparent that the long-lasting nature of American, and by extension Australian, involvement in Afghanistan has made the public weary of continuing casualties of coalition troops in Afghanistan. Richard Haass states that “Donald Trump wants to be able to claim in advance of the November election that he fulfilled his campaign promise to end the country’s longest war”. Farkhondeh Akbari describes the withdrawal as a “political necessity”. Niamatullah Ibrahimi of Deakin University also notes that American and Australian political circles 

have embraced this apparent opportunity to end their involvement in “one of the world’s most debilitating and protracted conflicts”. He also goes on to suggest that the US-Taliban agreement “is merely a cheap withdrawal troop agreement intended to serve US President Donald Trump’s political interests during an election year”. 

Australian media and academic circles believe American domestic politics, specifically President Trump’s attempts at re-election, to be fundamental in their motivations for an agreement with the Taliban. 

It appears that there is scholarly consensus that the Taliban has entered and come out of the agreement with the United States with distinct advantage and increased symbolic and political power. According to Professor Maley, the Taliban view the United States as “a weakened power, heading for the door”, a fact that is proven by substantial concessions the US made during the negotiations. 

The apparent betrayal of the Kabul government by the US is also heavily criticised in Australian media and academic publications, with many likening it to the American withdrawal of support for the Kurds in Syria. Consequently, many identify the elevation of the Taliban to an “equal” negotiating status with the US as a legitimising precedent for the militia. 

Haass highlights the possibility that the Taliban is pledging these concessions and negotiating with the US in a tactical manner. He states that it is “all-too-real" that the Taliban is not trying to end the conflict, but simply is attempting to exacerbate the American withdrawal of troops. 

Furthermore, Professor Maley argues that fewer American troops would allow the Taliban to escalate attacks on Afghan government forces, hence “enhancing their bargaining position”.He also deems it possible that the Taliban will push for total power in Afghanistan once the withdrawals are complete. 

Widespread consensus seems to suggest that while the US has made significant concessions in the agreement, the Taliban has had the benefit of only having “expectations” placed upon them by the US, hence predictably utilising a narrow interpretation of its obligations. It is apparent that throughout the interpretations of the agreement, the view that the Taliban have got the best out of the deal is commonplace. 

However, Ian Dudgeon of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, highlights that insights into the inner workings of the Taliban are limited, and that potential factional disputes and the disunity of its leadership may also limit the chances of any lasting peace.

IMPLICATIONS 

Academics have not shied away from criticising the content of the agreement either, especially what they consider to be its weak and non-binding nature. Across all the recent commentary on the agreement, a resounding criticism pertains to the exclusion and side-lining of the Afghan government itself, which many deem to be a crucial element of any peace deal in Afghanistan. 

Even the most optimistic interpretations remain conditional: That condition being the effective support of the Afghan government’s position in their eventual negotiations with the Taliban. 

Professor Amin Saikal of the Australian National University stresses that the only practical solution to the conflict in Afghanistan “was to have had a publicly legitimated and strong government in Kabul to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength”. 

The fact that the Afghan government was not party to these negotiations, the consequences of the agreement would be highly affected by the delay of decision on its implementation by the Government of Afghanistan as a legitimate party of any peace deal for Afghanistan. 

Another key factor that was missing in the agreement was that regarding Taliban bases in Pakistan. As Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi suggests, it is very unlikely that any peace agreement in Afghanistan will endure with insurgent militia able to freely operate out of installations in Pakistan. 

More recent analyses use the Taliban rejection of President Ghani‘s release of only 1500 prisoners, as opposed to the suggested 5000, as well as Taliban hesitation regarding the makeup of Kabul’s negotiation team, as indications that intra-Afghan talks will go nowhere and that violence will soon erupt once more. 

The integral components of the US-Taliban agreement, as well as the components it lacks, attract both heated criticism and cynicism from Australian media and scholars.

Predictions and analyses of the significance of the US-Taliban agreement for Afghanistan are varied, however predominantly pessimistic, with many predicting a stronger and emboldened Taliban increasing its activities without Western intervention and support. 

Srinjoy Bose in his article published by the Lowy Institute espouses cautious optimism, recalling the relative success of a 2018 ceasefire declared by President Ghani. 

The SMH’s Lisa Davies, contends that it is a step in the right direction, but strongly stresses the importance for a continued American presence in Afghanistan in order to persuade the Taliban to share power with the Afghan government. This possibility of a power sharing agreement seems a veritably unpalatable one for many scholars, such as Akbari, who emphasises the Taliban’s brutal violations of human rights during their rule. Ibrahimi also stresses the Taliban’s fundamentalist approach to women’s rights and freedom of expression, which are predicted to suffer under any power-sharing agreement.

Professor Maley espouses the most pessimistic view of the American withdrawal agreement. He likens the American approach to the Taliban as one not dissimilar to Chamberlain’s Britain, appeasing Nazi Germany by standing idly as they annexed Czechoslovakia. Maley’s descriptions in his article for the Australian Institute of International Affairs seem to suggest that a Taliban attempt to capture Kabul, or even Afghanistan in its entirety, is not entirely far-fetched. A common comparison used in several articles is that of the Paris Accords of 1973, which withdrew US troops from Vietnam, ultimately leading to the fall of Saigon 2 years later. 

Maley points out that “withdrawal agreements dressed up as peace agreements have a bad history of being dishonoured”. 

Lisa Davies goes so far as to say that "choppers could be rescuing US diplomats and Afghan sympathisers from the roof of the embassy in Kabul in a couple of years”. 

Policy recommendations for the success of any peace deal revolve around Western military and economic support for the Afghan Government. Western support would obviously have to be long-lasting, especially support for the Afghan state during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Haass recommends a continuous Western military presence in Afghanistan, to train government security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. He, despite its expensive nature, contends that it is a "price worth paying”. 

Even if a peace agreement is reached between the Taliban and Kabul, Nematullah Bizhan and Professor Maley estimate that in order to keep Afghanistan afloat, increased amounts of foreign aid of up to $8 billion a year are needed to fund services and economic growth. They also stress the necessity of legal reform in order to encourage larger amounts of private investment in the country. However, without these measures, "the consequences could be dire”. 

Ian Dudgeon also emphasises Australia’s vested interest in Afghanistan, given the $10.5 billion that it has invested in the country since 2001.

CONCLUSION

Overall, in response to the US-Taliban agreement, Australian journalists and academics permeate cynicism. 

The only hope displayed is conditional, based on a series of factors, such as Taliban trustworthiness, an American withdrawal more measured than that of with the Syrian Kurds and continued Western support for the Afghan government. 

Scholars deem the likelihood of any meaningful negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban slim, with latter predicted to grow in power and confidence. Long-term predictions for Afghanistan are varied, but there is wide agreement that further Western military and economic links are needed to provide for an acceptable peace. 

 

Canberra Brief: To Access its PDF version, click here.

About the Writer: Ethan Vujanovic is a law and International Relations student of Australian National University graduage. Ethan is doing internship with the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan since Janary 2020.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this version are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Canberra or the Government of Afghanistan. Material presented throughout this newsletter is for information purpose and is only as accurate as the sources allow.

Photo: President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and President Donald J. Trump at the United Nations General Assembly. Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs/Official White House, Photo by Shealah Craighead

 

SOURCES

Akbari, Farkhondeh. 2020. "A US-Taliban Deal: What Price For Peace?". The Interpreter - Lowy Institute.

Bizhan, Nematullah, and William Maley. 2020. "Is The US-Taliban Agreement A Path To Peace In Afghanistan?". Devpolicy Blog From The Development Policy Centre. 

Bose, Srinjoy. 2020. "In Afghanistan, Peace Or Fragmentation?". The Interpreter - Lowy Institute.

Davies, Lisa. 2020. "Trump's Deal With The Taliban Is A Step In The Right Direction". The Sydney Morning Herald.

Dudgeon, Ian. 2020. "The Afghan Peace Talks: Certainties, Uncertainties, And Unknowns". Australian Institute Of International Affairs.

Haass, Richard. 2020. "How To Leave Afghanistan". The Strategist - Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Ibrahimi, Niamatullah. 2020. "Lasting Peace In Afghanistan Now Relies On The Taliban Standing By Its Word. This Has Many Afghans Concerned". The Conversation.

Maley, William. 2020. "A Chance For Peace Or A Rush To The Exit?". Australian Institute Of International Affairs.

Maley, William. 2020. "Interests, Negotiations, And The US-Taliban Agreement". Afghanistan Center At Kabul University.

Saikal, Amin. 2020. "The US-Taliban Peace Deal". Australian Institute Of International Affairs.

Saxena, Chayanika. 2020. "In The Shadow Of A Pandemic, Political Calamity Grips Afghanistan". The Interpreter - Lowy Institute.

Last modified on Tuesday, 07/04/2020

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