On Saturday, the United States took a leap of faith by formalising an agreement with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha, agreeing to terms of withdrawal of the US 19-year-long war in the country, which cost the lives of more than 2,000 US soldiers, and nearly $900 billion. Perhaps not in their wildest dreams had the US leadership over the past two decades expected this photo-op, where US Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sat at the same table, in front of the world and shook hands with the Taliban, agreeing to a gradual withdrawal of US troops and their allies.
The details of the agreement between the US and the Taliban are public and it was recognised for some time now that the Taliban went into these negotiations with an upper hand. The Afghan government, from the start, was not part of the negotiations, putting the Afghan people’s representation incidental to their own future. The Taliban had started to pave the way for their own resurrection sensing two main trends, that both the detractors and supporters of the anti-Taliban campaign had reached an exhaustion point. Both camps, while disagreeing with each other, agreed that this was an unwinnable war.
However, most discussions on this issue have ranged around what this means for the US, the Taliban and the Afghan people.
Nonetheless, South Asia and the larger West Asian region will ultimately endure a large part of both the success and failure of this agreement and an imminent US withdrawal.
While a lot would ride on the intra-Afghan dialogue, slated to start on March 10, the agreement says that the Taliban will start these negotiations with “Afghan sides”, not specifically mentioning the Afghan government. Two days after the deal, the Taliban already seems to be preparing for hostilities against the Afghan armed forces once again.
A larger question that now arises is how do other groups, the likes of al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), both of which have strongholds in Afghanistan, view the said deal?
The expected reactions will, in all likelihood, be in the form of packaging of this deal as a victory of the mujahedeen over the US, a narrative that may resonate as a song of a historic triumph for decades to come for Islamist groups and jihadist movements.
The Taliban, and its leaders, since its inception in 1994, have had a rich history of supporting al-Qaeda, giving pledges of allegiance to its leadership under both Osama bin Laden and his successor, and current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
However, the deal mentions al-Qaeda only in passing and has stronger language dedicated to the US starting work towards removing Taliban members from the UN sanctions list. Moreover, the Taliban has provided next to no proof of any significant operations or manoeuvres over the past few months of specifically targeting al-Qaeda leaders or infrastructures to showcase its sincerity.
Kabir Taneja is a fellow, Strategic Studies Programme, Observer Research Foundation. HINDUSTAN TIMES