Under the new Biden regime, as the U.S. plans to move back on its older diplomatic stance; perhaps one of the biggest challenges that have emerged at the forefront of foreign diplomacy for the new president-elect is the U.S.-Taliban deal. A meltdown of the truce between the two warring states appears to be on the table; as incidents of the Taliban unleashing its rampage on the Afghan troops as a warning signal to the U.S. state to honor the previous agreement come to light. 

Before we can understand the significance of this deal and the new government’s potential stance on it, let’s look at the roots of turmoil in Afghanistan; and the reasons for over 19 years of an American presence in this far away land.

American soldiers returning home after a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan, at Fort Drum, N.Y., last year.

Image: New York Times: American troops returning home from deployment

Why is there a war in Afghanistan?

It was back in 1996 that the Taliban first managed to take control of Kabul; in the backdrop of Soviet troops pulling out from Afghanistan in the early 1990s. What then began as a promise to bring back peace and harmony to war-torn Afghanistan In just a couple of years; turned into a radical regime. Over 90% of the country was in their control by 1998.

While wars had been having a devastating impact within the region for several years, the first very time that the focus of the whole world shifted to Afghanistan in general and the Taliban, in particular, was on the 11th of September, 2001 when the attacks on World Trade Centre shook the whole world. 

Taliban wasn’t the prime accused in these attacks but was held accountable for sheltering the mastermind behind this tragic incident that took over 3000 lives; Osama Bin Laden. Soon, US troops had invaded Afghanistan. Those at the helm of the Taliban regime had been compelled to find refuge within the safe havens of Quetta, Pakistan. But it wasn’t until a little later that the Taliban remerged on the offensive and better equipped than before. 

The opium-poppy production in Afghanistan for manufacturing the drug Heroine (illegal drug trade), especially amongst those regions that are under the direct control of the Taliban appears to be amongst one of the key sources of revenue for the Taliban ensuring the longevity of this war.

Map shows parts of Afghanistan where the most opium poppy is grown. Highlights Helmand province, which grows the most.
Image: UNODC Afghanistan Opium survey

Cost of war

This war has had terrible consequences for all the stakeholders involved. As per data published by the US Department of Defence, the American intervention in Afghanistan has come at a cost of over $778 billion, over the years. Couple this with the costs of maintenance and reconstruction and the amount goes up to a whopping $822 billion. Even these figures are called out for being deflated estimates.

What we have observed thus far is a mere fraction of the economic costs of the war. Even more damning than this data is that of human cost over the years. The U.S. has lost over 2000 soldiers to this war; several veterans returning home with life-altering injuries and mental trauma. 

The loss of life for Afghanistan has been exceptionally high. Afghanistan security forces have lost their soldiers at a pace of nearly 30- 40 deaths per day. According to the UN assistance mission, over lakh civilians have either died or been severely injured in just the past decade.

The Agreement and its Significance

What is the U.S.-Taliban Deal?

One of the promises of the Trump campaign had been to ensure that the U.S. withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. This promise eventually culminated in the U.S.-Taliban agreement

The deal proposes a lasting cease-fire between the US and the Taliban; which shall be agreed upon and delved into during the intra-Afghanistan talk rounds. The deal stipulates that the US shall withdraw its forces from Afghanistan at a predetermined pace. The agreement also talks about a prisoner swap; with around 5000 soldiers of Taliban would be exchanged for 1000 Afghanistan prisoners of war.

Further, an agreement has been arrived at concerning intra-Afghanistan negotiations to ensure that long-lasting peace and stability can be ensured between the Taliban and the Afghanistani Government.

The deal also provides that the Taliban cannot use its members or other terrorist organization groups within Afganistan to threaten the security of the U.S.

Stakeholders involved

One of the biggest stakeholders in a deal that impacts Afghanistan’s future is the Afghanistan Government; it has been left out of the loop on this matter. The so-called peace treaty is neither Afghan-led nor controlled and could in fact have significant repercussions if things are to go south.

India has for long been supportive of the Afghanistan government. It was not in support of this US-Taliban deal as a growing Taliban presence in Afghanistan could have a potentially damaging impact on India’s National security. 

Pakistan on the other hand stands in contradiction of the Indian outlook; it hopes for the Taliban to gain control of Afghanistan; in effect establishing a regime that would be a lot more supportive of Pakistan, unlike the current regime that appears to have a relatively more favorable stance towards India.

Russia too appears to be in favor of the peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban; as an American pull-out from the region would only help the country re-establish its ties with Afghanistan.

China’s interest in this deal is mainly economic. Beijing believes that a Taliban-led Afghanistan would be more willing to make Afghanistan a part of the belt road initiative meant to act as a trade route between East Asia and Europe. 

Afghanistan’s copper, lithium, marble, gold, uranium and other, such mineral reserves estimate to be worth a trillion-dollar. These have remained largely untapped due to a lack of proper infrastructure.

While the primary reason America got into Afghanistan wasn’t on account of extracting its mineral wealth; Afghanistan’s massive oil reserves were an underlying agenda that has gone unaddressed in this situation.

No peace in sight 

There appears to be skepticism amongst some Afghani civilians about the Taliban’s promise of talks with the Afghani government for an amicably agreed on plan for a peaceful future; especially after how the promise for prosperity had turned out in the 1990s. 

Despite the Taliban agreeing to the terms of the deal, the targeted killings of Afghani soldiers and civilians have continued to rise ceaselessly; and with a dwindling American presence in the region, the situation doesn’t look good.

Even those voices that had pegged their hopes of a peaceful Afghanistan in this American withdrawal can’t seem to agree on how the removal of American troops has been planned out within the deal. A withdrawal of American troops based strictly on timelines prescribed by the agreement; not the Taliban’s adherence to its promise of abiding by the terms, has put the stability and security of Afghanistan at risk. Once the troops leave, Afghanistan may get into a civil war; only worsening its current state of affairs 

The current set up under the agreement brokered by the Trump regime appears to have emboldened the violent militias to go on a rampage. Taliban has further threatened to withdraw from its peaceful stance towards foreign troops; if American presence in the land does not disappear in its entirety by May this year. 

While the future of Afghanistan hangs amidst massive uncertainty, it appears that the Biden government’s stance on the U.S.-Taliban deal is what will determine the future of Afghanistan. For now, the countries that hope to achieve a peaceful and secure future, which appears to be nowhere in sight.