America’s longest national nightmare may be inching closer to a coup de théâtre. Last week, the United States and the Taliban, who for more than 18 years have fought a vicious battle in Afghanistan, announced that they plan to sign an agreement at the end of this month that will lead to the ultimate withdrawal of the US troops. The future of the possible peace deal between the two sides depends on the success of the temporary reduction of violence. While last week’s announcement raises hopes for a resolution to the 18-year-long war, it also raises a long list of questions that remain unanswered. The first and most important question is: Will the peace deal eventually allow the US to disengage? The second most important question here is: Will Afghanistan find absolute peace after the deal is signed? The third question is: How amorphous will a future power-sharing regime, that is likely to be installed in Kabul after the deal is signed, be?
From what we see at the moment, the government’s legitimacy, its cohesion, and command are all in doubt following the bitterly disputed presidential election, in which the opposition candidate claimed victory despite President Ashraf Ghani declared as the official winner. That leads to the fourth question: With the ongoing power struggle in Kabul, who will negotiate with the Taliban, and what mandate will they have to carry them out?
With all these questions unanswered, Afghanistan’s long, winding road to peace might lead to a dead end. The most likely outcome is that at the end of the winding path, the Taliban will have much more power than the US or any other stakeholder in this equation would like them to have. And if the US eventually hands the baton of command to the Taliban, there is a very strong possibility that Afghanistan will witness an endless period of unstable internal power-sharing agreements that will easily collapse and plenty of infighting before establishing peace in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2020.