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After six days of peace talks in Qatar, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban appear closer to an agreement that could end US troops’ 17-year presence in the country.

Brandon PrinsDiscussions are still at an early stage and Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain, said Brandon Prins, professor and director of graduate studies in UT’s Department of Political Science. Prins weighed in on several pressing questions about the future of Afghan–Taliban relations.

Why are the peace talks happening now?  

The war has been going on since 2001. It is the longest war in US history, and both the US and Taliban appear tired of the war. The Obama administration and now the Trump administration have wanted to end the US military presence and allow Afghans to take over full control of their country. The Trump administration initially increased the US military presence in 2017 to push the Taliban to the bargaining table. This seemed to work, and talks to end the US presence are under way.

So the talks are happening now because both the US and Taliban are exhausted, and perhaps the Taliban in particular realize they might get a good deal from an administration that seems ready to leave.

How open is each party to negotiations? How likely is it that we’ll see results soon?

Both sides see the peace talks as the only reasonable chance to avoid a longer and costlier conflict. Both sides also seem willing to accept the other’s demands: the Taliban want US troops out of the country, and the US wants this as well. The US wants to prevent terrorist groups from settling in Afghanistan, and the Taliban also seem to want this.

As others have said, the devil is in the details—and these details will set the timetable. But I think a deal will get done, if only because President Trump wants US troops home. The sticking point will be the current government of Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan president is clearly worried that the US is willing to cut a deal too quickly and offer too many concessions to the Taliban. He wants to slow the process down, if only to ensure his own political survival.

What would a peace deal with the Taliban look like?

This is what is to be determined in the peace talks. The Taliban want the removal of US troops, and the US seeks to prevent Afghanistan from once again being used by trans-national terrorist groups for training and launching attacks. The US also seems to want assurances from the Taliban that women’s and minority rights will be protected. Questions remain regarding the role of the current Afghan government and what role the Taliban will play in that government.

Can we expect to see a full withdrawal of US troops any time soon?

I suspect some troops will be coming home soon. It may be that others remain to ensure the Taliban uphold their side of the deal. There are important questions about whether the Taliban will maintain the rights extended to women and minorities, and if those were eliminated I do wonder if the Trump administration will be blamed for losing hard-fought gains in Afghanistan. So some troops might help prevent such an outcome.

Additionally, even though the Taliban may not want terrorist groups using Afghan soil for training, there is a question as to whether they could in fact prevent that from happening. There is a branch of IS that has a presence in eastern Afghanistan, and the US and Afghan governments have seemingly been unable to eliminate this group. Experts think the Taliban also does not have the capacity to eliminate this group.

CONTACT:

Megan Boehnke (mboehnke@utk.edu, 865-974-4232)

William Wells (yqk572@vols.utk.edu, 865-974-2225)