Just 24-hours after a historic U.S. peace deal with the Taliban, the Taliban told fighters to resume operations against security forces. The attack came after a week of a partial truce that extended over the weekend between the United States, Afghan forces, and Taliban insurgents. By that Monday, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahideen told the AFP:
“The reduction in violence…has ended now and our operations will continue as normal. As per the [US-Taliban] agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.”
However, even the partial truce wasn’t completely free of violence. During the week preceding the U.S. peace deal, the Taliban attacked a pro-government checkpoint. There was always a question of whether a peace deal was possible with the Taliban.
In 2018, Clarion Project hosted a series of interviews with veterans who had served in Afghanistan. In Part 2 of our series, we interviewed retired Army Major Jason Howk, who served with the Department of Defense as a South Asian foreign area officer.
Howk worked on Afghanistan since 2002. He remarked that a peace deal with the United States is a status symbol for the Taliban, but that ultimately peace would have to be made between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
In light of the U.S. peace deal with the Taliban, Howk offers a five-point framework for how to understand a relapse into violence:
- Identity and remove spoilers
There will always be those who don’t agree with the rest of the deal and don’t want peace talks. This might be senior leaders, nations like Pakistan or low-level fighters. This is normal and expected. The key is to identify them as separate from those who seek peace, isolate them and remove them.
- For the Taliban, dialogue undermines power
The enemy of the government never wants to talk to the government. In the Taliban’s case, the second they speak to the government marks an end the justification for their insurgency, i.e., that they are the government-in-exile. This is because speaking to the government is an admission that the government already exists … and it not them!
- Contingencies to deter total U.S. withdrawal
The enemy of the government will drag their feet on everything. They want to gain leverage by looking powerful. The Taliban knows they have a timeline they signed onto, so they will have to talk or the withdrawal won’t be completed. US and NATO forces are happy to have Special Operations Forces (SOF) and advisers stay on for counter-terrorism work in the region, so if Taliban tries to break the deal in any way, they won’t get what they and Pakistan really want, which is the total withdrawal of American and NATO forces from the country.
- The legitimate Afghan government will be tested
The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) needs to protect itself and the Afghan people. Entering cease fires and talks means shifting to peace keeping, law and order tasks. But they must be careful not to break any violence reduction norms either. This is a test for government forces: Will they have the discipline to make the switch? All indications say yes, they will, and they will remain responsive to the Afghan government.
- The Taliban will continue to serve as a chaos agent
The Taliban will cheat and drag their feet. The U.S., NATO and especially the Afghan government will need to be patient and not “freak out” over the little stuff. Taliban spoilers and their backers want to draw the Afghans and their allies into breaking the agreements. So everyone must look at the long term and focus on the serious Taliban breaches of the agreement. I like to say ignore the speed bumps on the road to peace and look out for the cliffs. This road will be long and have some dead ends, you just have to keep moving and the deal will unfold and lead to its destination.