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Monday, March 01, 2021

Explained: What is the US-Taliban deal that the Joe Biden administration is expected to review

The deal was signed last year in February and is meant for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan'' enabling the US and NATO to withdraw their troops, which has been a longstanding demand of the Taliban.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 24, 2021 10:46:50 am
President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP)

This week, the Biden administration has said that it will review the US-Taliban deal to see if the Taliban are able to keep their end of the bargain. The deal was signed last year in February and is meant for “Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” enabling the US and NATO to withdraw their troops, which has been a longstanding demand of the Taliban.

So what is this agreement?

The four-page pact was signed between Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, political head of the Taliban on February 29, 2020.

Afghan peace talks, Afghan Taliban peace talks, Taliban Afghan peace talks, Afghan Taliban talks, World news, Indian Express File photo: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, shake hands after signing an agreement at a ceremony between members of Afghanistan’s Taliban and the U.S. in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. (Reuters)

The agreement said “[a] permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan”.

Separately, a three-page joint declaration between the Afghan government (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and the US was issued in Kabul at the time.

What is the significance of this deal?

Some of the important elements of the deal include the withdrawal of US troops along with bringing down NATO or coalition troop numbers within 14 months from when the deal was signed. The main counter-terrorism commitment by the Taliban is that “Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”.

Other elements include removal of sanctions on Taliban leaders, releasing prisoners held by both sides and ceasefire.

The joint declaration is a symbolic commitment to the Afghanistan government that the US is not abandoning it. The Taliban were able to negotiate some of the elements they wanted such as troops withdrawal, removal of sanctions and release of prisoners. This has also strengthened Pakistan, the Taliban’s benefactor, and the Pakistan Army and the ISI’s influence appears to be on the rise.

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However, the Afghan government was completely sidelined during the talks between the US and the Taliban. Therefore, the future for the people of Afghanistan is uncertain and will depend on how the Taliban honours its commitments. What the Taliban want out of a political settlement is unclear. In the past, they have denounced democracy as a western imposition on their vision of Afghanistan. They have dropped several hints of a return to the Taliban-run Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan of 1996-2001. But they have signaled they may accept some of the democratic gains Afghanistan has made in the last two decades.

Much will depend on whether the US and the Taliban are able to keep their ends of the bargain, and every step forward will be negotiated, and how the Afghan government and the political spectrum are involved.

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