Afghanistan War Middle East & North Africa Politics & Government Terrorism

Qatar Peace Talks a Fateful Rehash of the Past

Peace, according to the Taliban, would only take shape following a full withdrawal of US troops out of the region, release of Taliban prisoners, and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.

History came full circle September 12th in Qatar as defeated Afghani government officials met for the first time with gleeful Taliban leadership. The objective of the meeting was to discuss peace strategies which in turn would bring an end to four decades of fighting in war-torn Afghanistan. The Taliban had clear negotiating power, resulting from the ongoing shelling by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, even while the conference was well on its way. Peace, according to the Taliban, would only take shape following a full withdrawal of US troops out of the region, release of Taliban prisoners, and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. The Taliban’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, clarified the Taliban’s objectives stating:

“We seek an Afghanistan that is independent, sovereign, united, developed and free — an Afghanistan with an Islamic system in which all people of the nation can participate without discrimination and live harmoniously with each other in an atmosphere of brotherhood.” 

It is incomprehensible that twenty years after the creation of the Bonn Agreement, the United States finds itself bargaining with the Taliban. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the United States declared a “war on terror” and quickly swept through Afghanistan taking out Taliban targets solely by air. Within months of the invasion, the overwhelmed Taliban retreated to Tora Bora, a rugged and mountainous region located in eastern Afghanistan. Surprised by how rapidly the Taliban was defeated, and with America’s fury directed at Iraq, the international community insisted a central government be established in order to ensure stability in the region. What ensued were the Bonn Agreements of 2001, which took place in Bonn, Germany. The convention brought together the United States, the United Nations, and other various tribal groups that inhabited Afghanistan, with the ousted Taliban noticeably excluded. The Pashtun tribe, who despite accounting for 35% of the Afghani population and the group in which the Taliban most closely aligns with ethnically, did not receive an invitation to the conference either. Without a formal surrender by the Taliban, nor any Taliban involvement in the creation of a coalition government, the interim government collapsed, and the Taliban resurgence reformed just a few months later.

The Taliban never forgot this mistake and has been a thorn in the side of every US
President ever since. Now, two decades later, the US is on the other side of the negotiating table, desperately trying to leave it. According to Savannah George of The Washington Post, the Trump Administration released six high profiled Taliban fighters to appease the Taliban, with as many as 5,000 more militants promised to be released in the subsequent months. President Trump had declared the US-brokered peace talk a victory for his administration, despite a surge of Taliban attacks throughout Afghanistan. In just the last month, more than 35,000 Afghanis have fled the Helmand province due to intense Taliban violence

However, it is apparent that newly-elected President Joseph Biden is unlikely to diverge from President Trump’s plan for troop withdrawal. While serving as Vice President under the Obama Administration, Vice President Joe Biden frequently voiced his concern about President Obama’s initiative in 2009 to deploy more troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Biden’s approach to Afghanistan has strictly centered around quelling international terrorist groups in the region. As a result, Afghanistan’s expectations for a Biden Administration to establish peace, especially with how divisive the election has been domestically in the United States, are exceedingly grim. When asked about his thoughts on the incoming Biden Administration and Biden’s prior policies under the Obama Administration, former Afghan Deputy Defense Minister Tamim Asey, who worked under the Ghani administration in Afghanistan, he responded “I don’t think he has his changed his mind much since then: to get out of Afghanistan, let Afghans govern themselves, but keep a light footprint in the form of counterterrorism, primarily to ensure U.S. national security interests.”

With a weary US trying its best to remove itself from the region, it is at risk of repeating the same failed attempts made by former Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, which is to hastily withdraw from the region. Attempts made under previous campaigns resulted in the deployment of even more troops, most notably President Bush’s quiet surge and Barack Obama’s own surge in 2012. The recent surge in Taliban violence due to yet another troop withdrawal is surely to result in yet another deployment of troops. If the notion that ‘history repeats itself’ has any ounce of truth, I would urge the new Biden Administration to save time, effort, money, and cruise missiles and instead invest in security, infrastructure, and most importantly, restoring faith in the Afghani people, as opposed to fighting the same annual resurgence. 

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By Matthew Rutzen

Matthew Rutzen is a junior at UCLA majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies. At UCLA, he takes part in research for the Center for Middle Eastern Development. He hopes to continue his academic and professional endeavors to promote awareness of crucial current events in the Middle East through journalism, and later diplomacy.

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