Touted as a peace deal, the Taliban celebrates U.S. withdrawal as a victory
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The Taliban have said that their attacks on Afghan forces do not violate the withdrawal agreement. In addition, the Taliban’s online platform, Nawai Afghan Jihad (the Voice of Afghan Jihad), publicly boasts their “armed operations [are] ordinary or normal jihadi activity.” While Taliban violence surges against the Afghan people and heavy casualties continue to be inflicted since the confirmation of the ‘peace’ deal, the US-led NATO task force in Afghanistan unconscionably stopped reporting numerical data about the attacks at the start of May 2020.If the number and severity of Taliban attacks is not reported and cannot be abated, the existing Afghan government will soon succumb to the IEA.

The Taliban currently controls approximately 19 percent of the districts, while directing contesting nearly another 48 percent. Clearly, the IEA remains the central goal of the Taliban.

Established in 1996, the Taliban have committed themselves to being recognized as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) — a jihadi proto-state governed by a strict interpretation of sharia law. Between 1994 (with the fall of Kabul and Kandahar) and 2001, the Taliban rose to significant power, subsequently taking control of the majority of Afghanistan. As a result, the transnational jihadist groupal-Qaeda (AQ) was able to effectively use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States on 9/11. In the months to follow, the IEA refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, standing against sanctions and pressure from the United States. In 2011, bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan,by a United States military special operations unit.

At the height of Taliban rule, only a fraction of Afghanistan remained under the control of the internationally-recognized Northern Alliance. In December 2001, on the heels of a crushing US-led response to the 9/11 attacks, the IEA was ultimately quelled by the Northern Alliance and a number of assisting assets. Even so, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — an Afghan government marked by a few democratic structures — continues to struggle in their fight against the Taliban and its allies, including AQ. For years, painstaking efforts have been made to prevent the South Asian country from falling back under the control of the authoritarian regime.

As leader of the Afghan Interim Administration and president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, Hamid Karzaibegan to propose meetings with Taliban leaders in 2010 to end the ongoing Taliban insurgency through peace negotiations. Democratically elected in 2014, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the current president of Afghanistan also thought it necessary and possible to strike a deal for peace with the Taliban. He has gone as far as being willing to recognize them as a legitimate political group in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Taliban continues to contest a significant number of the 398 districts in Afghanistan, having gained the control of more territory in Afghanistan since 9/11. The Taliban currently controls approximately 19 percent of the districts, while directing contesting nearly another 48 percent. Clearly, the IEA remains the central goal of the Taliban.

To even bring the idea of peace to the table, the Taliban should have been obligated to publicly disavow their sworn allegiances from groups like AQ and state sponsors of terrorism like Pakistan.

While scattered attempts have been made in the previous decade to end “America’s longest war” through peace negotiations with the Taliban, efforts markedly intensified in 2018. An ensuing series of on and off peace talks with the Taliban finally came to an apparent halt under the administration of President Donald Trump. Not only was the Afghan government not allowed to participate in these negotiations(as Ghani was excluded from the from the talks and from the agreement), it’s also quite troubling that the formal agreement drastically favors the Taliban (i.e. the prisoner exchange ratio of 5,000 to 1,000— including requests for the release of key Taliban commanders — and the removal of sanctions against members of the Taliban by August 27, 2020), and the deal — which was endorsed by the UN Security Council — does not provide any conditions for the Taliban to halt attacks against Afghan forces.

It should also be noted that Pakistan, a state sponsor of terrorism which provides support to the Taliban and sanctuary to its top leaders, is not once mentioned in the deal. The Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) continue to support and embrace a boundless system of madrass as and training camps. A recent UN Security Council report (S/2020/415) published near the end of May says, “one Member State reported that the total number of Pakistani nationals fighting with terrorist groups in Afghanistan may be as high as 6,000 to 6,500.”

While those numbers are likely underestimated, jihadis continue to funnel through Peshawar from the Indian subcontinent into Afghanistan, as Pakistan controls the overland supply routes. When the Taliban retakes control of Afghanistan, AQ and their affiliates will be right back in business — the business of killing to re-establish the Islamic Emirate.

Pre-9/11 meetings occurred between Iran, AQ, and the Taliban, leading to the fact that Iran and Hizballah were co-responsible for the 9/11 attacks. To this day, Iran supports the Taliban. Ultimately, Iran supports the Taliban because they’re fighting the presence of the West, or maybe more specifically, the non-Islamic forces in the region. It should be also be emphasized that, even since 9/11, AQ has maintained its bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to the Taliban. Even after Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar were killed in 2011 and 2013, respectively, AQ’s oath remained uninterrupted. In 2015, Ayman al-Zawahiri swore his allegiance to Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. After Mansour was killed in 2016, Zawahiri pledged his allegiance to Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, the current emir of the Taliban.

…has the US actually turned a blind eye to the fact Afghanistan soil will certainly continue — in plain sight — to be used to threaten the security of the United States and its allies around the globe, particularly India and Israel?

The point is that AQ’s oath of allegiance to the Taliban has been in effect for a very long time through multiple individuals, and their allegiance remains in effect to present day. Akhundzada (who has reportedly grown gravely ill) has yet to publicly renounce Zawahiri’s oath of allegiance. Interestingly, Akhundzadais referred to as the emir al mu‘minin (Emir of the Faithful)by AQ, a term of a would-be caliph. Denouncing the oaths between these organizations would have been a rational place to begin the so-called peace talks with the Taliban. To even bring the idea of peace to the table, the Taliban should have been obligated to publicly disavow their sworn allegiances from groups like AQ and state sponsors of terrorism like Pakistan.

Peace agreement — or withdrawal agreement?

The US has been trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan for a long time. During his presidency, Barack Obama had hoped Afghan forces would have defeated the Taliban-led insurgency alongside a number of allies, but this was not the case. President Donald Trump initially increased American presence in the region, then decided not to invest America’s resources in defeating the Taliban by force. Without a clear plan to defeat the Taliban, negotiating with the deep-seated organization was brought to the table again…and again.

And on February 29, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Baradar Akhund signed the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” — which has been touted as a peace deal agreement with the Taliban. According to part one of the three-and-a-half-page conditional agreement (which is accompanied by secret annexes), “the United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) months following announcement of this agreement…” US forces will be reduced to from 13,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of the agreement — with plans to withdraw all of its forces within 14 months.

Following the alleged period of a reduction in violence (RiV) for seven days leading into the signing of the deal, the Taliban resumed deadly attacks against Afghan security forces on a daily basis. The Taliban publicly claims responsibly for the greater majority of attacks that have taken place in nearly all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Unsurprisingly, it was not long after the Trump administration landed the ‘historic’ agreement, Akhundzada declared victory for the entire Muslim and mujahid nation. The Taliban had already long-considered the US-Taliban ‘peace’ talks a necessary step to advance the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign forces from Afghanistan.

As attacks continue to occur and alliances remain undeterred in Afghanistan, it is naïve, irresponsible, and incredibly dangerous to believe the US and Taliban have entered into a ‘peace’ deal with the world’s deadliest…

Rex Tillerson served as US Secretary of State between February 2017 and March 2018. In October 2017, he said, “…there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever.” At the time, Tillerson said there was “a place for [the Taliban] in the government if they [were] ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan.” Rather than a reduction of terror and violence in the region, the ‘moderate’ Taliban’s relentless attacks on Afghan security units continued. Following Tillerson, Michael Pompeo has assumed the position of Secretary of State since April 2018 — and the rhetoric of a high-ranking US government official did not end. Having “[taken] the fight to the Taliban these last two years,” Pompeo seemed convinced in a March 2020 interview that “[the Taliban], for the first time, have announced that they’re prepared to break with their celebrated ally, AQ, who they’ve worked with much [to] the detriment of the United States of America.” Meanwhile, the Taliban has left this promise unfulfilled, having not expelled, captured, or executed a single member of AQ to date.

The Taliban’s advancing victory

On the morning of March 1, 2020 — the day following the signing of the professed peace agreement — the Taliban began making preparations for large-scale attacks to gain control of Kabul and key provinces in Afghanistan, according to a May 16 report in the Urdu daily Roznama Ummat. The report specifically stated “as per the sources in the Military Commission, the Afghan Taliban have from March 1 until now made complete preparations and, whenever the permission is granted, the capital [Kabul] and important provinces will be occupied.”

Concurrently, AQ’s senior leadership began praising the Taliban’s triumph over America and its allies in Afghanistan. At three-page statement released by AQ encourages scholars, wealthy donors, and others “to support the [Islamic Emirate] leadership” in its effort to “birth [an] Islamic state which [judges by] the true Allah’s law (sharia).” The statement also urges Muslims to “perform jihad for the sake of Allah his true jihad, and increase with patience and assurance, and the unity of the word, the word of believing in the one Allah, so this is the only way to get out of the domination of the infidels, and grab the freedom, and the victory against the enemy of Islam and the Muslims.” According to the statement, thanks shall be given “to the exalted Allah first and last concerning this great victory.” As could be predicted, the Taliban issued a fatwa (a religious decree) on March 5, which provides the ‘lawful’ justification for the group to “continue waging armed jihad” until the totalitarian Islamic state called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is fully established.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Terry Bishop

specializes in a variety of topics related to the strategic influence of terrorism and subversion, counter-terrorism and national security. His many fields of interest and research include armed conflict and violence in South Asia with a specific focus on al-Qaeda in the [Indian] Subcontinent (AQS), the Taliban, and other Deobandi-linked terror groups. Follow him on Twitter @TerryBishopSR.

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