By Rashi Seth
BOLOGNA, Italy – On September 8, President Donald Trump publicly cancelled a previously secret meeting with both the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. President Trump cited the deaths of two American soldiers killed by suicide bombings in Kabul as the reason for his abrupt decision. The purpose of this meeting, planned for September 11 at Camp David, had been to end the war in Afghanistan.
The potential peace agreement had focused on four key issues: a full withdrawal of US and NATO forces, a guarantee that the Taliban that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launchpad to attack neighboring states, an intra-Afghan dialogue among Afghans from different ethnic groups about Afghanistan’s political future, and a permanent ceasefire. The nixed accord was the result of nine rounds of peace negotiations held over the past year.
Following President Trump’s announcement, President Ghani said “real peace” in Afghanistan would be possible only if the Taliban ceases launching attacks and participates in direct talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban has said that there will not be a ceasefire until the US and NATO withdraw their combined 31,000 troops completely from Afghanistan.
A US withdrawal might result in decreased casualties, but it is unlikely to bring about long-lasting peace in the near term. According to a report released by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the US, NATO, the U.N., and other international forces are responsible for killing more Afghan civilians than the Taliban in the first three months of 2019. But given ongoing factional disputes over political representation and the contest for legitimacy between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the prospects for peace in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces seem dim. Former spokesman of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, Hashim Wahdaytar, claimed, “The country will fall to another civil war and some countries in the region will support each faction for a proxy war.”
According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), ethnic groups like the Uzbeks and Tajiks are preparing for civil war after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces. The circumstances resemble the instability following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, which preceded a civil war. ISW claims that the minority groups have begun signaling facets of their mobilization to safeguard their communities from the Taliban – a Pashto organization comprising 40% of the Afghan population. These non-Pashto ethnic groups are wary of a potential Taliban-controlled Afghanistan due to a history of persecution by the group, in the form of kidnappings, killings, relentless intimidation, and documented massacres. This form of ethnic cleansing is responsible for 6,000 documented deaths of Hazaras, while the numbers for other groups remain unknown.
Assuming that the negotiation process moves forward, it is still difficult to determine Afghanistan’s future. However, one thing is likely – until it does, the war will continue.