The U.S. has been meeting with a delegation of Taliban representatives for the past several months in Doha, Qatar, to negotiate an end to the 18-year-old war and reduce U.S. military presence there. As part of that ongoing process, a group of 50 prominent Afghan civilian leaders (including women) who are not currently associated with the Afghan government, which the Taliban refuses to recognize and talk to directly, met recently with the Taliban for two days of intense discussions. They have jointly issued a “Roadmap to Peace” containing several interesting points that presage the future of Afghanistan:
• “Institutionalize the Islamic system in the country for the implementation of a comprehensive peace.”
• “Assure women’s rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs as per within the Islamic framework of Islamic values.”
• “Ensure the security of public institutions, such as schools, religious madrassas, hospitals, markets, water dams and other working locations.”
• “Continue support and assistance from donor countries post peace agreement based on the new cooperation and relations.”
So, what does all this mean for Afghans and the Americans who have footed the bill for the ongoing war and the reconstruction of Afghanistan over the past 18 years? Are the prospects for peace real?
It’s clear from the statements the Taliban have made throughout the negotiations that they believe they have won the war and that the U.S. is looking for the fastest way out. Once the U.S. leaves, the Taliban will establish an “Islamic system in the country,” meaning the current constitution and government will be abolished and a government based on sharia law implemented. No more Western-sponsored elections will be held. This may be just as well, because every election in the country has been plagued by voter fraud, with each one worse than the last, leading only to further instability.
The Taliban have conceded to respect women’s rights “within the Islamic framework.” This means women will lose some of the rights and freedoms they have gained under the Western-driven reconstruction which has established institutions patterned after western, secular norms. But women will retain their rights as accorded in the Qur’an and under sharia law. These do not line up well against contemporary international standards of human rights, but they do include the right to an education, to work outside the home and political participation in some form, which all were banned under the pre-9/11 Taliban government.
The Taliban have committed to reducing “civilian casualties to zero” and to refrain from attacking and destroying all the public infrastructure that has been built during the post-9/11 reconstruction, i.e., schools, markets, etc.
Most notably for Americans, the Taliban are expecting the reconstruction funding provided by Western donor nations led by the U.S. to continue. In other words, the $132 billion of U.S. taxpayer money that has been poured into Afghanistan to rebuild that country after 9/11 will continue, although much of that money has been stolen through corruption.
Nevertheless, it does look like we may be on the verge of some sort of “peace” in which the Taliban again implement an Islamic state that accords women some limited rights and privileges. This will not be a democracy as we know it but will be something familiar and acceptable to most Afghans, who by most surveys are ready to accept sharia law if it will bring security and peace. Unfortunately, the Taliban are not the only opposition group to be fighting against the current Afghan government. ISIS, which once held sway over much of Syria, has reconstituted itself in Afghanistan and has proved to be just as lethal as the Taliban. There also are innumerable armed criminal, drug and ethnic-based militias that will continue to fight on no matter who rules in Kabul. So peace will be illusive, and fighting will not come to a complete stop (as it never has in Afghanistan) but may be reduced under a future Taliban government that will continue to receive support for its civilian reconstruction efforts from Western donor governments funded chiefly by the U.S.
We’re buying our way out of this one and it may be worth it.
Mark Kryzer lived and worked in Afghanistan on civilian reconstruction programs for 10 years between 2003 and 2018. He attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota South Asia Center. He is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer. He’s at email@example.com and blogs at markkryzer.com.