US-Taliban Ink Peace Deal, Indian FM Dashes to Kabul

“(Indian) Foreign secretary dashing to Kabul suggests Feb 29 was sudden”; “Pakistan is effectively out of foreign policy wilderness

DESPARDES — Following a week of ceasefire between Afghan Taliban, US and NATO, a historic peace agreement was signed in Doha today February 29– the additional day of the month of a leap year.

The agreement with Taliban militants, US and NATO aims at bringing an end to 18 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan and allowing US troops to return home from America’s longest war. All told, the cost of the war will amount to more than $2 trillion.

The United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld its commitments, according to a joint statement released by the US and Afghan governments on Saturday.

“The Coalition will complete the withdrawal of their remaining forces from Afghanistan within 14 months following the announcement of this joint declaration and the US-Taliban agreement…subject to the Taliban’s fulfillment of its commitments under the US-Taliban agreement,” the statement said.

The US would initially reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 within 135 days of the US-Taliban agreement, which was signed in the Qatari capital in the afternoon — 26 countries were represented in the signing ceremony that saw US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader sign the dotted lines.

On being asked to comment on the peace agreement, Pakistani defense analyst Syed M. Ali quoted his tweet which said,”Afghan Taliban has rewritten history with the greatest power in human history”.

The deal dovetails Pakistan civil-military’s mantra for “enduring stability in the region” and PM Khan’s poll campaign position that only a political not military solution can end the never-ending war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan welcomed the signing of the Peace Agreement. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was present at the occasion, on the invitation of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar. In his remarks to the media after the ceremony, Qureshi said that it carried immense importance — both in symbolism and substance — for Afghanistan, the region and beyond.

“Today’s ceremony has, once again, vindicated Pakistan’s long-held stance that there is no military solution of the Afghan conflict. Prime Minister Imran Khan has consistently underlined that a political settlement is the only way forward,” said a FO statement.

According to the statement “the Foreign Minister underlined that Pakistan had fulfilled its part of the responsibility in terms of facilitating this Peace Agreement. It added, “Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.”

The deal comes days after President Donald Trump concluded his 4-day trip to India without major agreements.

Indian security analyst Pravin Sawhney tweeted after news of the agreement, that the “Foreign secretary dashing to Kabul suggests Feb 29 was sudden. It was clear Pak will be key driver & Iran, China, Russia will have roles in Afghanistan with Taliban in lead. Ghani will get eased out. India will be outsider. Geopolitical map of region will change to Pak advantage”.

According to a Pakistani defense official (who spoke earlier on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to comment), Pakistan is effectively out of foreign policy wilderness.

He referred to uptick in Islamabad’s foreign policy homework successes vis-a-vis Turkey, Malaysia, the FATF matter, relations with Trump administration, Pak-Afghanistan relations and the latest — US-Taliban Truce.

“We need to pull (the) economy together”, the official added.

While war-related spending roughly doubled the size of Afghanistan’s economy since 2007, it has not translated into a healthy economy, and Pakistan’s economy has taken a huge hit — roughly $120bln in losses as it fought terrorism on its soil also.