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Peace in Afghanistan?

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Even as the fighting of the spring offensive intensifies, it now looks as if there finally may be an agreement in Afghanistan that will bring American forces home. The United States delegation, led by Special Representative Zelmay Khalilzad, appears to be working out a deal that could end the conflict and bring home 14,000 American troops (and remaining European forces) stationed in Afghanistan. To date this war has lasted over 17 years, taken 2,372 lives of American soldiers, over 20,000 American soldiers wounded (Defenselink, 2019), and cost over 100,000 Afghan lives, many of them civilians (UNAMA, 2018). The war in Afghanistan has now cost American tax payers over 45 billion dollars each year (Pennington, 2018). However, an agreement may finally be reached, there are a number of difficult and complex issues that remain to be resolved, problems that could plunge Afghanistan into turmoil for years to come.

The Peace Talks

After declaring for years that the United States would not talk directly to the Taliban without the participation of the Afghan government, on Friday October 12, 2018 American representatives did just that, meeting with representatives of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The leader of the American delegation, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been appointed United States Special Adviser on Afghanistan in the State Department. This was not the first time the U.S. had talked directly with the Taliban, but this time the talks seemed to be on firmer ground.

Khalilzad is an interesting choice for this task. Born and raised in Afghanistan, he received his master’s degree at the American University of Beirut and his Ph. D. at the University of Chicago. He rose quickly in the ranks of the American Foreign Services as a follower of Zbigniew Brzenziski in the Carter administration, despite being a Republican. Khalilzad served as the American Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and played a key role in the writing of the Afghan constitution. He later became Ambassador to Iraq under George Bush and then the United States Ambassador to the UN.

The basic issues being negotiated have not changed. From the beginning the Taliban have made several demands, primarily the withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan. Other demand include recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political party in Afghanistan, releasing Talibani prisoners (including those in Guantanamo), delisting of the Taliban as a terrorist organization, and changing the Afghan constitution to create a more Islamic-based government.

By early February 2019 it appeared that an outline of a partial agreement had been reached. This agreement states that the Taliban would guarantee that Afghanistan would not house or otherwise support international terrorist groups, especially Al Qaeda, in return for the United States withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s housing of Al Qaeda at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was the major reason for the United States becoming involved in Afghanistan in the first place. This agreement, although an important breakthrough in negotiating the end the war, leaves additional issues unresolved.

The premises of the agreement will not be easy to implement. To begin with, the Taliban’s agreement to not allow terrorists to operate in Afghanistan depends in part on the interpretation of what exactly a terrorist is. The Taliban itself has been classified by the United States and other Western countries as a terrorist organization (Mashal, 2019). Both the United States and the Taliban agree that the Islamic State is a terrorist organization, but there are many other groups that the United States would define as terrorist that the Taliban would not. These include the Jalaluddin Haqqani Network, Tehreek-e Nafaz- Shariat-e Mohammdani, the Caucasus Emirate, and the Islamic Moverment of Uzbekistan which has been active in northern Afghanistan (Counter Extremism Project, 2019). Even if the United States and the Taliban........

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