Trump’s Taliban Deal Is Bad for India
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Just hours after the ending of a week-long “reduction” in violence that was crucial for Donald Trump’s peace deal in Afghanistan, the Taliban struck again: On Monday, they killed three people and injured about a dozen at a football match in Khost province. This resumption of violence will not surprise anyone actually invested in peace for that troubled country. The point of the U.S.-Taliban deal was never peace. It was to try and cover up an ignominious exit for the U.S., driven by an election-bound president who feels no responsibility toward that country or to the broader region.
Seen from South Asia, every point we know about in the agreement is a concession by Trump to the Taliban. Most importantly, it completes a long-term effort by the U.S. to delegitimize the elected government in Kabul — and, by extension, Afghanistan’s constitution. Afghanistan’s president is already balking at releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners before intra-Afghan talks can begin — a provision that his government did not approve.
One particularly cringe-worthy aspect: The agreement refers to the Taliban throughout as “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.” This unwieldy nomenclature validates the Taliban’s claim to be a government equivalent to the one in Kabul, just not the one recognised at the moment by the U.S. When read together with the second part of the agreement, which binds the U.S. to not “intervene in [Afghanistan’s] domestic affairs,” the point is obvious: The Taliban is not interested in peace, but in ensuring that support for its rivals is forbidden, and its path to Kabul is cleared.
All that the U.S. has effectively gotten in return is the Taliban’s assurance that it will not allow the soil of Afghanistan to be used against the “U.S. and its allies.” True, the U.S. under Trump has shown a disturbing willingness to trust solemn assurances from autocrats; but its apparent belief in promises made by a murderous theocratic movement is even more ridiculous. Especially as the Taliban made much the same promise to an Assistant Secretary of State about Osama bin Laden while he was in the country plotting 9/11.
Nobody in the region is pleased with this agreement except for the Taliban and their backers in the Pakistani military. India has consistently held that the legitimate government in Kabul must be the basic anchor of any peace plan. Ordinary Afghans, unsurprisingly, long for peace — but they are, by all accounts, deeply skeptical about how this deal will get them there. The brave activists of the Afghan Women’s Network are worried that intra-Afghan talks will take place without adequate representation of the country’s women — who have, after all, the most to lose from a return to Taliban rule.
But the Pakistani military establishment is not hiding its glee. One retired general tweeted: “Big victory for Afghan Taliban as historic accord signed… Forced Americans to negotiate an accord from the position of parity. Setback for India.” Pakistan’s army, the Taliban’s biggest backer, longs to re-install a friendly Islamist regime in Kabul — and it has correctly estimated that, after being abandoned by Trump, the Afghan government will have sharply reduced bargaining power in any intra-Afghan peace talks. A deal with the Taliban that fails also to include its backers in the Pakistani military is meaningless.
India, meanwhile, will not see this deal as a positive for regional peace or its relationship with the U.S. It comes barely a week after Trump’s India visit, which made it painfully clear that shared strategic concerns are the only thing keeping the countries together. New Delhi remembers that India is not, on paper, a U.S. “ally.” In that respect, an intensification of terrorism targeting India, as happened the last time the U.S. withdrew from the region, would not even be a violation of Trump’s agreement. One possible outcome: Over time the government in New Delhi, which has resolutely sought to keep its ties with Kabul primarily political, may have to step up security cooperation. Nobody knows where that would lead.
The irresponsible concessions made by the U.S. in this agreement will likely disrupt South Asia for years to come, and endanger its own relationship with India going forward. But worst of all, this deal abandons those in Afghanistan who, under the shadow of war, tried to develop, for the first time, institutions that work for all Afghans. No amount of sanctimony about “ending America’s longest war” should obscure the danger and immorality of this sort of exit.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Mihir Sharma is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was a columnist for the Indian Express and the Business Standard, and he is the author of “Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.”
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