Will the US Negotiations With the Taliban Leave Afghanistan Vulnerable?

Will the US Negotiations With the Taliban Leave Afghanistan Vulnerable?

Although entering negotiations with the Taliban might be seen as a sign of progression, there are still concerning signs that the fighting will continue in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American support and influence. Without an American presence there is a danger that Afghanistan will be more exposed than ever to the threat of the Taliban’s terrorism. 

Throughout the last year, the Taliban have been involved in negotiations of peace with the United States, under the condition that the US withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. Although it might be considered by some to be a necessary move in order to coax the Taliban to the table, it remains to be seen if it will be enough to finally bring an end to two decades of bloodshed in Afghanistan. From the start of the century, the Taliban has waged guerrilla warfare against the forces of the US, as well as the Afghan military, in order to reclaim their former position of power as a conventional government in Afghanistan, a position they once before took by force in the 1990’s. Since their defeat by the US following the September 11 attacks, the Taliban have demonstrated a seemingly unshakeable resolve to regain power in Afghanistan. However, to abandon such an ambition after so long would be wildly inconsistent and highly unlikely, especially from an organisation strictly believing Afghanistan should be run in an extremist Islamic fashion. 

Unlikely Peace in Afghanistan

As this is only one of a few times in the entire conflict that the Taliban are in earnest and impactful negotiations, it is difficult to predict how much of an impact these peace talks may have in the long term – impacts that are made especially challenging to imagine by the utter lack of any such previous negotiations with which to compare. This comes from the extremist views of the Taliban, who have made it clear that they do not find the present Afghan government to be observing Islam to a satisfactory degree. This is a strong implication that the Taliban do not consider the sitting government fit to rule their country. From this, there does not appear to be much hope for a peaceful – or even productive – outcome from these meetings. 

Even if the war does officially end, it would be unexpected if peace were to continue for a significant length of time. Violence between the Taliban and the Afghan government has tormented the lives of those in Afghanistan for decades. Therefore it does not seem at all likely that there will be any stable peace in the country. Although these peace talks may benefit the US, should they be successful, it appears that it is Afghanistan and its people who would be at substantial risk of losing more than they would gain from these negotiations, as it will in all probability lose them the military advantage of American support that they have enjoyed over the Taliban so far. Without this American support, it will be much harder for Afghanistan to keep the threat of the Taliban contained. 

Continuing Civil War?

It is no secret that the US has been instrumental in countering the threat of the Taliban throughout the war in Afghanistan. This has led to reasonable concerns over what will happen in the state once their military has finally withdrawn in full. There are concerns that Afghanistan will fall back into a state of civil war without American firepower to counter the Taliban. This fear is warranted, considering how the Taliban gained substantial power back in 2003. The US at that time had considered the Taliban to be too weak to be a serious threat and subsequently withdrew their forces from Afghanistan, focusing instead on fighting the war in Iraq. This decision gave the Taliban the ideal opportunity to regroup and regain much of their former strength, resuming their attacks on the newly vulnerable Afghanistan. Now, history has been given the not-so-rare opportunity to repeat itself, as the Taliban ‘are seizing their chance and the death toll rises daily’.

Indeed, the Taliban official spokesman, Mohammad Naeem emphasised that despite the negotiations with both the US and the Afghan government, there was no actual cease-fire. Although civilians are still being targeted and killed by these terrorists, it is possible that these attacks may well be ignored by the US. As a condition of the peace talks includes reduced combat between US troops and the Taliban, it would most likely ruin the negotiations if the US attempted to intervene, as well as possibly prolonging American involvement in the conflict. 

Opportunities for the Taliban

These circumstances highlight an important dilemma as once the US withdraws from Afghanistan – leaving the state more exposed – this will potentially allow the Taliban to succeed in occupying Afghanistan. This is apparent given the concern from the US that the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani might struggle to effectively counter the Taliban threat. Given that the fighting has lasted for two decades, even with American support, the odds that Afghanistan can defeat the Taliban without America are low to say the least. By extension, there is a chance that the Taliban may acquire power and gain control over much of Afghanistan, just as they originally did in 1996. From this, it seems likely the Afghan citizens will unfortunately continue to endure the terrorism of the Taliban and experience even more suffering as the chances of a Taliban victory are likely to increase. Furthermore, this begs the question, what might lie in store for other states in the Middle East? Iran, for example, has had hostile relations with the Taliban in the past and so appears to be fearful of becoming a target again, should the terrorists come to control Afghanistan. The Taliban is highly likely to contribute to future conflicts in the region. If this were to  happen, and acts of terror escalate in the Middle East, the US and other Western states may once again feel compelled to intervene. If this should occur, then the world would see a repetition of the conflict to which the US is currently trying to bring an end – adding to the already vicious cycle of violence and warfare. These concerns underline the threatening nature of the terrorists in their current position; if they become the dominant power in Afghanistan, one can only imagine what they might inflict on neighbouring countries and the Middle East as a whole.

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