Here's why the US should agree to a deal with the Taliban

Here's why the US should agree to a deal with the Taliban
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On Monday, negotiators from the United States led by the veteran American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a founding Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, announced that the framework of a peace deal between the two parties had been agreed upon. Such a deal is welcome news as it’s a step toward ending America’s longest war.

According to a recent Department of Defense (DoD) report, “The al Qaeda threat to the United States and its allies and partners has decreased and the few remaining al Qaeda core members are focused on their own survival.”

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Moreover, the connection between the Taliban and al Qaeda has always been tenuous at best, despite some ideological similarities. Western intelligence agencies and Osama bin Laden himself all agreed that the Taliban had no prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks; the primary reason of the U.S.’ enmity with them was due to the fact they harbored al Qaeda in 2001.

Currently, while “some lower- and mid-level Taliban leaders provide limited support to al Qaeda...there is no evidence of strategic ties between the two organizations.” For the past several years, the Taliban has been keeping its distance from al Qaeda.

The draft deal between the U.S. and the Taliban would formalize and extend this behavior. Its most important component is a guarantee by the Taliban to prevent Afghan territory from being used by terrorists against the U.S. and its allies.

The potential deal with the Taliban would also allow the 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan to leave in a gradual and dignified fashion over an 18-month period. Additionally, the deal leaves open the possibility of a “future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government,” one that would also potentially include the Taliban.

Despite its current hostility to the U.S., the Taliban does not seek permanent enmity with us, because many of our geopolitical interests align, including countering Iranian and Russian schemes in the country. Nor does the Taliban want to become overly dependent on Chinese investment or Pakistani patronage.

In the 1990s, the U.S. and Taliban worked together on economic projects, including a natural gas pipeline — there is no reason for the U.S. to not cooperate with a peaceful Taliban in the future.

If we observe the fuller picture, it is evident that much of the world is riven with local rivalries, tribal enmities and ancient hatreds that have nothing to do with the wellbeing of the average American citizen, or the national interests of the U.S.

The persistent strength of the Taliban is the result of local concerns, such as ethnic-Pashtun nationalism and the rivalry between India and Pakistan that causes the latter to provide some support to militants in Afghanistan as a way of countering Indian influence there.

Because these local factors will not change any time soon, a peace deal is also essential for the Afghan people.

The Afghan government is barely viable on its own, cannot win the conflict and is unlikely to even hold what territory it currently controls without massive American military and fiscal intervention. According to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, 45,000 Afghan soldiers have been killed since 2014, a demoralizing and unsustainable figure. On the other hand, the Taliban has many abundant sources of local income, derived from all sorts of licit and illicit activities in the approximately half of Afghanistan that it controls such as opium, timber and farming. It can sustain a guerilla war almost indefinitely.

There is much progress to be made until a U.S.-Taliban peace deal is finalized and inked. Many worry that the human rights situation would deteriorate in Afghanistan. We can use diplomacy to pressure local actors to advance humanitarian concerns and we can consider allowing more refugees into America. However, the U.S. does not deploy troops in other countries based on atrocious human rights records — such as Saudi Arabia.

An American withdrawal from Afghanistan neither requires the Taliban’s permission, nor a formal deal. It would be the best course of action for our interests regardless of what the Taliban bring to the table. The U.S. can always target terrorists who threaten Americans and those who tolerate them. However, it is also the in self-interest of the Taliban leadership to deny terrorists safe haven.

By committing to restricting their activities to Afghanistan and disavowing support for international terrorist organizations, the Taliban has implicitly accepted the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty. They would not go through all the trouble of months of negotiations with the U.S., only to violate a deal. Their main goal has always been to persuade foreign militaries to leave their country. Violating a deal would jeopardize that and also invite a devastating U.S. response that would likely plunge their nation into further war and bloodshed. Moreover, the Taliban’s allies in Pakistan and the Gulf Arab states would strongly pressure the Taliban to avoid such a course of action.

Ultimately, the Taliban and their allies want an Afghanistan bereft of foreign militaries and influence in order to implement whatever local cultural, religious and economic goals they may have.

The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to the framework of a deal that allows us to leave with dignity. It aligns with our interests and national security and having accomplished our goals in Afghanistan, it is time to get out and leave Afghanistan and its tumultuous situation to local actors to solve.

Akhilesh Pillalamarri is a fellow at Defense Priorities, which is a D.C.-based think tank focused on a strong, dynamic military and realistic foreign policy to ensure American security, prosperity and peace.