In Afghanistan, there is not just disagreement — there is war. Persistent violence threatens Afghanistan’s democracy and its future.
Important progress is being made on peace, but Afghanistan has experienced unprecedented levels of violence since the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed last year. Although peace talks are ongoing in Doha, Qatar,, the Afghan people have not seen peace manifest on the ground.
We know the peace process is just that, a process, and we must have patience. But we must also remember how much is at stake in these negotiations. Every day, men, women and children live in fear of losing their rights, their democracy or even their very lives.
The Biden administration will have to grapple with this stark reality as they formulate their policy in Afghanistan, and the deadline for making a decision is rapidly approaching. According to the U.S.-Taliban agreement, a full U.S. withdrawal of troops is scheduled for May 2021, if the conditions are met. Given that the conditions have been repeatedly violated, the United States must now decide how to proceed.
Already, the Taliban is marketing the U.S.-Taliban agreement as evidence of its victory over the United States. It has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of commitment to peace. As long as it believes military victory is within their grasp, it will not show the level of dedication necessary for peace to succeed.
Just as peace talks do not necessarily mean peace, neither does a deal. We cannot allow fatigue to lure us into a deal that hurts more than it heals. The consequences of a false peace are as dire as no deal at all. In Afghanistan, gains on human rights and women’s empowerment will be lost, democracy could crumble, and Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for terrorist groups in the region. Furthermore, Afghanistan’s implosion would destabilize the region and have devastating consequences on global security.
If we truly desire peace — and we do — the United States must ensure it is not just trimming the branches, but treating the roots. This entails looking at the Taliban’s funding, training, resources and relationships with Pakistan and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Pakistan says it cannot bring peace to Afghanistan and asks that its role be defined from a regional connectivity perspective. It should only be expected to do what it is capable of, such as denying the Taliban a base and truly working toward regional economic development. Now is the time for bold actions like these.
In spite of growing fatigue and shifting priorities, now is not the time to abandon this partnership. The U.S.-Afghan partnership has evolved dramatically from a military intervention to a symbiotic relationship in which Afghan security forces conduct 96 percent of security operations independently. The 2,500 U.S. troops who remain focus on highly specific counterterrorism missions in the country.
Afghanistan is now more of a base than a battlefield for Americans, and their presence is mutually beneficial. Similar to U.S. presence in South Korea, Germany and Kuwait, American troops in Afghanistan serve as a stabilizing force. The United States stations about 168,000 troops worldwide for this purpose.
The United States must make the bold decision to hold the Taliban accountable for its egregious violations of the agreement and fully commit to the U.S.-Afghan partnership.
Afghanistan must make the bold decision to build a better future for all of its people. We cannot choose to focus on the pain of our past over the hope of our future. It is imperative to remember that we are building a future to uplift generations to come.
Afghanistan’s democracy will serve as the foundation upon which we build our future, and continuity is critical. Strengthening a country requires building institutions up and building upon our achievements, not tearing things down when they are imperfect. On top of our nascent democracy, we rest our hopes and build our future.