Due to the number of conflicting interests between the Taliban and the United States, any agreement is going to require major sacrifices from both actors. However, due to the credibility of both actors, reaching a bargaining agreement is going to be difficult. While many view the United States as credible and a power of its word, this credibility is not viewed by the Taliban, who many view as insurgents that occasionally use terrorist tactics to aid their uprising in Afghanistan. The lack of credibility is the same in reverse in regards to the Taliban because of some of their methods and tactics used as they strive for power. In order for any agreement to work between the Taliban and the United States, both parties will likely have to give up something which may require a third party institution to ensure both sides hold true to their word.
In each case, one must look at both sides and determine what they want and what they are willing to trade for it. Starting with the Taliban, it is know that they want the Westerners to stop interfering in Afghanistan and their military presence removed. They also want a government with an extreme interpretation of Islam. The United States wants the Taliban to cut all ties with Al’Qaeda and also wants Afghanistan to not host international terrorists or collaborate with them in any way. While the former wish does not directly involve the Taliban, the fact that they have ties with Al’Qaeda which is designated as a terrorist organization makes the United States see this tie as an opportunity for Al’Qaeda to assert their power in Afghanistan. The United States cannot take the chance of aiding the Taliban in its quest for a government role while they still have connections with terrorist groups. The Taliban may see Al’Qaeda as an asset to aid their governance and bolster their political control in Afghanistan, (as it has been seen previously with Pakistan employing terrorist organizations to aid their policy). This in turn would open the door to Afghanistan harboring and working with terrorist organizations.
The United States is willing to make a deal with the Taliban in the following bargaining range: the Taliban must cut all ties with Al’Qaeda and any other terrorist organizations that are still enjoying its hospitality. To do this, the Taliban would have to give up its non-Afghan terrorist leaders and also provide proof of insurance in terms of them not being invited back in the future. (This prevents the reversion outcome of Afghanistan being used as a terrorist safe haven with government backing). In exchange, the United States is promising some role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s government, however this role will not be complete control. The United States will also withdraw its troops from Afghanistan at a scheduled pace only after insurance that these requirements have been met. (This prevents the reversion outcome from being the United States using its occupying military power to meddle with an Islamic state’s politics). No matter what deal is made, one requirement is going to be the United States withdrawing its military presence from Afghanistan. Both actors want different things and have little credibility with each other to support anything they may put in writing. This creates problems and ultimately many areas in which any bargaining agreement can easily turn into a failed attempt.
Suppose everything goes as planned, meaning the Taliban cuts its ties with Al’Qaeda and gives up other terrorists leaders to the United States and begins holding a power sharing agreement in Afghanistan’s government. The United States then starts withdrawing its troops. However, things start going wrong in the power sharing agreement with Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban, so the Taliban turns back to Al’Qaeda to reinforce its power. While the Taliban may have had an agreement with the United States, this bargain failed quickly because the Taliban feared loosing the power it was holding. Since this move by the Taliban makes Afghanistan vulnerable to falling into the hands of an Al’Qaeda linked regime, the United States immediately reasserts its military power into the country. This now places the country at a higher risk for war between governments, armed insurgents and terrorist organizations. It also puts the Taliban and the United States back to the beginning of negotiating a deal but this time, more is at stake.
Alternatively, the Taliban could keep its word while the United States is still fearful of problems so it either drags its feet with removing its troops or does not remove its troops at all. This could create the feeling for the Taliban that the United States is not keeping its word or never had any intention to. This in turn could cause the Taliban to feel the need to reconnect with Al’Qaeda and other terrorist organizations it previously had relations with. Since the Taliban is holding some sort of power in Afghanistan, they may have intentionally cut ties with Al’Qaeda and other terrorists organizations but now they have things to offer them in return for good relations: a safe harbor country and potentially government assistance.
The scenarios in the previous paragraphs illustrate just two of many possible ways these groups could reach a bargaining failure in the event that they signed an agreement. It also shows ways in which these two groups could be thinking before signing an agreement which gives foresight to the problems that could arise. Because of this mindset, the United States and the Taliban may be cautious of signing onto any agreement with each other. This could be different for both parties if an international institution would neutrally oversee each actor and ensure each side held up its end of the bargain. An international institution could help increase the possibility of having a bargaining success between the Taliban and the United States in the near future. While it is possible for both parties to come to an agreement without an institution, the institution provides the insurance and credibility both sides need in order to be successful.
Frieden, J. A., Lake, D. A., Schultz, K. A. (2016). World Politics: Interests, Interactions, Institutions. New York, NY. W.W. Norton Company, Inc.
Shinn, J. Dobbins, J. (2011). Afghan Peace Talks, A Primer. Santa Monica, CA. RAND Corporation. Retrieved September 04, 2016 from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2011/RAND_MG1131.pdf
Siddique, A. (2015, February 5). Are the Taliban Terrorists? Prague, Czech Republic. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Corporation. Retrieved September 08, 2016 from http://gandhara.rferl.ord/a/afghanistan-are-taliban-terrorists/26832355.html