A year after the signing of the Doha Deal, it is still the best solution for ending Afghanistan’s four decade long turmoil.
In 1986, when it became abundantly clear that Soviet forces would withdraw from Afghanistan, having occupied it since 1979, the communist regime pursued a policy of National Reconciliation. The intention was to reach a peaceful resolution with the armed opposition and create a new government where all political factions could participate in democratic elections. However, the failure of the regime in Kabul and its armed opposition to capitalise on that unique opportunity after the departure of Soviet troops resulted in the brutal civil war of the 1990’s.
Much has been said about the role of neighbouring countries in the creation of internal turmoil in Afghanistan. The problem with this: blaming neighbours entirely, is that it takes away agency from Afghans. Without the presence of foreign forces, Afghan political factions do have the autonomy to act rationally and serve their own interests.
Which brings us to the US-Taliban Peace Agreement that was signed on 29th February 2020. The historic significance of the agreement between the Taliban and the United States can only be grasped when it is seen within the context of Afghanistan’s recent history. For two decades the United States and its allies occupied Afghanistan and supported a collection of disparate Afghan factions, while others were fought against and persecuted.
Today, Afghanistan is more divided than ever before. Since 2001, tensions based on ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional differences have engulfed politics, media, education and even the civil service. Violence is reportedly at an all time high. Every year Afghanistan is in the top five of the most corrupt nations in the world and inequality is increasing at a rapid pace. Nobody can claim that today’s Afghanistan is by any measure a successful attempt at nation building.
Meanwhile several surveys have shown that the vast majority of Americans want to bring their troops home. The United States and other members of NATO are facing major economic and political challenges on their home front. Therefore, continuation of occupation and idealist attempts to convert Afghanistan in a Western style liberal democracy no longer enjoy popular support in Western countries.
Prior to the signing ceremony of the Doha Deal, the US Special Representative for Afghan Peace, Zalmay Khalilzad travelled continuously to Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries. The purpose of his travels was to reach a consensus with all the actors involved before a deal could be signed with the Taliban. When the Doha Deal was finally signed, it was approved by the United Nations Security Council, with all neighbouring countries expressing their general support, with Iran’s attitude yet ambiguous.
The reason behind the initial success of the Doha Deal was its very simple formula: all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan, the Taliban would agree to deny safe havens for groups that may pose a threat to other nations and intra-Afghan negotiations would start, aiming to create lasting peace in Afghanistan. That formula can still yield results as no other major component in the raging war has changed.
Without the military presence of the United States and other NATO members in Afghanistan, what’s left behind are a collective of Afghan political factions riveted by their own internal differences against another Afghan political faction: the Taliban. Most of these factions were in some capacity active in Afghanistan after the fall of the communist regime in 1992. However, back then, they failed to reach a common ground and make peace, instead inflicting massive destruction on the country in a brutal civil war.
Therefore, the US-Taliban Peace Agreement and the subsequent intra-Afghan negotiations present a second attempt for the same factions to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The departure of foreign forces leaves Afghan factions to settle their differences with one another on an equal playing field, without the unfair advantage of one faction being overwhelmingly more powerful than others due to the presence of allied foreign forces.
Lastly, the regional consensus that has been reached is a clear indication that the circumstances are now ideal for Afghans to negotiate with one another, instead of relying on neighbouring countries for support in war against fellow Afghans.
While many obvious attempts have been made in the last twelve months to sabotage the Doha Deal, it is evident that the intention behind them was to ensure that foreign forces stay behind and continue supporting one faction against another. This provides ample reason for a timely withdrawal of all foreign forces in accordance to the Doha Deal. Foreign forces should not, and as the last two decades clearly demonstrated, could not eliminate other Afghan factions, even if at the behest of their local clients.
Ultimately, Afghans need to rely on their own abilities to negotiate and reach a consensus with their compatriots without dragging outsiders along with them; Afghanistan is the home of all Afghans despite all their internal differences and conflicts.