After nine rounds of talks in Qatar, the US and the Taliban have reached agreement on a draft accord. This is a major achievement as previous attempts at talks between the two sides failed to make progress, often collapsing on one issue or another. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US’ special representative in the talks with the Taliban has shared the contents of the draft accord with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the draft will need President Donald Trump’s go-ahead to become a done deal. That the two sides have finally reached agreement is undoubtedly a step forward. However, details made public so far provide cause for concern. Clearly, the accord is not a peace agreement, but a deal done to facilitate the exit of US troops from Afghanistan and to protect US security concerns. Thus, the accord provides for US withdrawal of 5,400 American troops from Afghanistan within five months in return for Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base to carry out terrorist attacks on the US and its allies. The draft accord is silent on the question of a ceasefire by the Taliban vis-à-vis the Afghan government or on the issue of intra-Afghan negotiations towards a settlement of the conflict. Over the past year, the Ghani government, the Afghan people and countries like India have expressed concerns over the talks culminating in a civil war or power grab by the Taliban once the US troops leave. Such apprehensions have become a real possibility now. The Taliban is already in control of half the territory of Afghanistan.
Once the US exits, even if it leaves behind over 5,000 troops, Afghanistan will sink into unprecedented violence. The US has betrayed those Afghans craving for peace and security. The draft accord has serious implications for India. New Delhi has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Afghanistan’s infrastructure and capacity building. It has built strong bonds with the Ghani government and politicians across the spectrum. It has built relationships with the Afghan people, helping them build their lives and livelihoods. It must ensure that these are not imperilled. If New Delhi hasn’t already opened channels of communication with the Taliban, it must do so immediately. Talking to the Taliban need not be the same as endorsing its agenda. Afghanistan’s likely return to civil war does not bode well for the region. Millions of people can be expected to flee the fighting. An influx of Afghan refugees into neighbouring countries will deepen instability in the region. Neighbours like Pakistan can be expected to fish in Afghanistan’s troubled waters as they did after the Soviets left in 1989.
With India pressing for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which allows Afghanistan nationals, among others, to come to India it seems that India is also preparing for an undercut backlash of the US – Taliban deal. Also, any in the Afghanistan government have shown resentment over the deal and for not involving the Afghan government officials more intricately. However, the immediate impact of the deal is to felt for India who has invested much of its resources, time and energy over Afghanistan. What the bitter rival Pakistan will make out of this scenario is to be seen, with many believing that it might use this situation in its favour to topple the Afghan government which is close to India currently.