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The U.S. – Taliban Deal Will Prove To Be A Disaster

By Marvin Zonis

Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan, has pulled off a peace deal with the Taliban. There are obvious benefits for the United States. But the outcome for Afghanistan and for all of South Asia is much more dire.

President Trump has been a long-time critic of America’s continuing role in Afghanistan. As far back as October, 2011, he tweeted, “When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.”

Now he has managed to pull off a deal that will allow him to reduce U.S. troop levels in that country from 12,000-13,000 at present to 8,600 by election day, 2020, and take the remainder of the troops home by May of 2021. The U.S. also agreed to withdraw all “private security contractors, trainers, [and] advisers.”

In return, the Taliban have agreed to open negotiations with the U.S. backed government in Kabul (but they did not agree to recognize the legitimacy of the current government), to stop attacks on American troops and to prevent al Qaeda or the Islamic State from operating in Afghanistan.

The agreement is a fig leaf to legitimize the U.S. withdrawal. Its effects on what the U.S. will leave behind is disastrous.

*Absent U.S. military support, the training of the Afghan security forces and civil servants, and financial aid, the government in Kabul will fall to the Taliban. (If U.S. foreign aid does continue to flow, it will most likely be corrupted away given the absence of U.S. advisers.)

*Civil war will return to the country as tribal leaders seek to preserve their independence from the Taliban.

*But the Taliban will win and create an Islamic Emirate – a state guided by their primitive and repressive interpretations of Islam.

*The most powerful group within the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, headed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, will come to dominate Afghanistan. His network is the creation of Pakistan, which has guided, trained, financed, armed and provided safe haven within Pakistan for its members. Pakistan will soon come to dominate Afghanistan.

*Afghanistan will become a battleground between Pakistan and India. India has sought to build its influence in Afghanistan so it could pressure Pakistan from Afghanistan as well as it already does from the south of Pakistan – from India itself. India, it turns out, is now the most important foreign influence in Afghanistan after the U.S. They have the second largest diplomatic community. They provide the second largest source of foreign aid. India will struggle to maintain its presence in the country against the Pakistani backed Taliban and its fear that Afghanistan will become a home for anti-Indian militants.

In short, the U.S. withdrawal will leave Afghanistan at least as miserable as it was before the U.S. intervention in 2001 but will also likely destabilize south Asia.