Is peace with the Taliban possible?
The recent suicide bombing by the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State (IS-K) at a wedding in Kabul, which killed more than 60 and injured close to 200, is a stark reminder of Afghanistan’s poor security situation. It also shows that the Taliban are not the only armed opposition fuelling the conflict. A U.S.-Taliban peace pact is therefore unlikely to bring any respite.
The U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha – in which the Afghan government is not a participant – are comparable to two previous peace processes: the Paris talks that resulted in the January 1973 peace treaty between the U.S. and North Vietnam; and the negotiations that led to the 1988 Geneva Accords, signed by the Afghan and Pakistani governments with the Soviet Union and the U.S. acting as guarantors.
These two agreements were designed to enable the U.S. and the Soviet Union to exit with "honour" from wars they could not win, by bringing about, respectively, the "Vietnamisation" and "Afghanisation" of those conflicts. Both agreements failed to achieve their objectives.
Cold War ping-pong
By 1975, Soviet-backed North Vietnamese forces had overrun South Vietnam, humiliating the United States. And in 1992, the U.S.-supported Afghan Islamic resistance forces, the mujahideen, brought about the collapse of the Soviet-installed communist regime in Kabul.
Whereas the North Vietnamese soon succeeded in uniting their country and restoring peace, however, Afghanistan has fared much worse. The socially and politically divided mujahideen soon turned their guns on one another. And Pakistan took the opportunity to advance its regional interests by nurturing the extremist Taliban, who in 1996-98 conquered most of Afghanistan and subjected it to strict theocratic rule.
The Taliban in turn harboured al-Qaida, which carried out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. That prompted America, backed by its NATO and non-NATO allies, to intervene in Afghanistan the following month with the aim of destroying al-Qaida and dislodging the Taliban regime.
The comeback of al-Qaida and co.
The U.S.-led forces quickly dispersed al-Qaida’s leadership and ended Taliban rule, but failed to defeat either group decisively. The Taliban and elements of al-Qaida staged a comeback within two years of the U.S. intervention and have tied down American and allied forces in a low-grade, but staggeringly costly insurgency ever since.