September 9, 2019
On or off, peace talks with the Taliban spell disaster for AfghanistanRoundup
tags: terrorism, Afghanistan, Taliban
Ali A Olomi is an assistant professor of history at Penn State Abington, specializing in the history of the Middle East and Islam.
Trump’s willingness to negotiate with the regime that harbored al-Qaeda has triggered widespread outrage. But if history is any judge, it is the abrupt cancellation of the talks that should worry Americans and Afghans both. This isn’t the first time that the U.S. government has turned its back on a peace deal in Afghanistan — and the last time it happened, the outcome was the very Taliban regime that has wreaked such havoc in recent decades.
In 1988, the United States, the Soviet Union, Pakistan and the government of Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords, bringing the nearly decade-long Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to a close. The U.S.S.R. agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, while the United States promised to cut funding for the insurgency.
The government of then-President Najibullah was in a precarious position. To survive, it needed to secure a favorable agreement, along with assurances of continued political support. But it received nothing of the sort.
Instead, the 1988 peace talks sidelined crucial players in Afghanistan, centering instead on the needs of the United States and the Soviet Union. Neither great power devoted much attention to planning for the peace to which they were agreeing. They largely ignored the lives of ordinary Afghans and the need to rebuild the country after the war.
Even worse, the United States broke the accords by continuing to filter money through Pakistan into the hands of the insurgency for some time after, while the U.S.S.R. was mostly concerned about withdrawing its troops quickly for internal political reasons.
By largely sidelining Najibullah’s government, the two powers dashed its hopes that they might legitimize it as a serious player. This left the government of Afghanistan contending with a crisis of legitimacy. Within four years, it collapsed, too weak to contain old, neglected grievances that boiled over into a multifaceted civil war as mujahideen turned on mujahideen.
The United States helped fuel this war by funding the insurgency. Into the fractures of a civil-war-riven Afghanistan entered the Taliban, a political organization and movement. It quickly seized power and established itself, despite resistance within the country and beyond it, as the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The mismanagement of the Geneva Accords gave the world the Taliban’s brutality, with devastating repercussions not only for Afghans living directly under its power but also for all the victims of terrorism supported by the regime. The emergence of this terrorist-supporting regime led the United States to wage an ongoing 18-year-long war in Afghanistan, with mixed results at best.