Will Biden stay on the course set by Trump in Afghanistan?

How will Joe Biden’s election as US president affect the Afghan peace process, which was pushed by his predecessor, current President Donald Trump? Analysts say Biden will largely stay on the course set by the outgoing president but will hold the Taliban accountable for violence.

They say the real difference will be in implementation, with some Afghans expressing hope Biden will give fewer concessions to the Taliban, which has been engaged in peace talks with the Afghan leadership in the Qatari capital Doha.

On Monday, Afghanistan’s second vice president, Sarwar Danish, called on the incoming Biden administration to review the peace process and apply more pressure on the Taliban, which signed an agreement with the US to reduce violence.

Such moves can give more leverage to the Afghan government negotiators at the intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, that has struggled to set off since its launch in September.“A Biden government is much more likely to listen to concerns of allies, including those in Kabul, and its own national security establishment, and adjust its policy of drawdown and disengagement to ensure continued stability as much as possible,” Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

 

Sultan Barakat, director of the Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute, also echoed Watkins’s point of view saying logistical decisions on reducing US troops will continue and could end the United States’s 20 years of war – its longest one.

“Biden may follow the strategy of explaining more detail the reality on the ground to the Afghans and to the Americans,” he said.

“He will also be pressuring more on good regional relationships with countries surrounding Afghanistan. He has to keep them on board.”

Biden’s priorities

The Taliban has been accused of carrying out deadly attacks on government forces while holding talks in Doha. The Afghan armed group says it has not flouted the February deal with the US, as the Afghan government was not party to it.

On Tuesday, the Taliban urged Biden to implement the February agreement that calls for a complete withdrawal of US troops by May 2021.

“The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the armed group said in a statement, its first comment on the results of the US presidential election.The February agreement envisioned phased withdrawal of US forces in exchange for the Taliban pledging not to allow Afghan soil to be used against the US and its allies. Thousands of US troops have already been pulled out as part of the deal.

 

Afghan analyst Maisam Wahidi said it is unlikely for Biden to reject the US-Taliban deal, as his priorities would be to solve more urgent domestic issues rather than getting into a disagreement with the Taliban.

“Biden’s priorities are other domestic and global issues; including COVID-19 crisis in the US, Paris agreement, dealing with China, Russia, and Iran. So, I don’t think he will be the president to restart a war in a country that has proven to bring out no winners,” Wahidi said.

However, Biden might keep a small number of counterterrorism troops in the country to ensure America is not under threat from armed groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS), Wahidi said, adding that this will make the Taliban more accountable to fulfil one of the core tenets of the US-Taliban agreement: To break ties with al-Qaeda.

A report released in May by the UN said al-Qaeda has between 400 to 600 operatives active in 12 Afghan provinces: Badakhshan, Ghazni, Helmand, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nuristan, Paktiya and Zabul.

‘Don’t give Afghanistan to Taliban’

Many Afghans believe Trump rushed with the peace process. They say the US president did not prioritise a responsible pullout of American troops, something that can result in pushing the country back into a civil war.

Trump has also been accused of giving the Taliban more concessions during talks and “sidelined the Afghan government”.

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