The recent deal struck between the United States and Afghanistan’s Taliban to end their 18-year conflict was a historic effort to bring peace to the war-wracked nation. While lacking the oversight of Kabul, it still offered a chance to move beyond decades of combat. But within weeks of its signing, continuing violence, a wrangling over a promised prisoner swap and the country’s political chaos would appear to augur poorly for talks to begin the reconciliation process. There is still reason for optimism, though, the departure of foreign forces giving hope Afghans will have an opportunity to chart their own course without outside interference. American troops are already withdrawing as part of the deal, with all to be out in 14 months if security conditions are met. The Taliban has agreed not to provide sanctuary to foreign terror groups in exchange for the US lifting sanctions. But fighting between the Islamic group and government forces has continued. New unrest also threatens as a result of rivalry between President Ashraf Ghani, who won last September’s election, and Abdullah Abdullah, who declared themselves the country’s leader at separate swearing-in ceremonies in Kabul on March 9. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday a cut of US$1 billion in aid to Afghanistan after failing to convince the men to end their feud. Dual Afghan presidents lead to constitutional crisis Negotiators were careful not to portray the agreement as a peace deal. Although the Taliban has pledged to end its fight with foreign troops, it has vowed to continue attacks on Afghan security forces until a prisoner swap takes place. In a positive development on Sunday, the group and the government held a Skype meeting in a bid to resolve the dispute; authorities want a phased and conditional release of inmates and the Taliban wants them freed all at once. The mission of American troops when deployed in 2001 was to go after Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists behind the September 11 attacks, who were being harboured by the then Taliban government. The Taliban was overthrown and a US-backed democracy put in place, and bin Laden killed in a US raid on his Pakistan hideout in 2011. Al-Qaeda is no longer a powerful force and neither the US nor the Taliban have gained battlefield advantage. America has never been involved in so protracted a foreign conflict. Its withdrawal without defeating the Taliban is in effect a surrender. But Afghans have endured 40 years of war and their country is Asia’s poorest. The US can claim success if it can ensure successful talks take place. Regional powers have to refrain from channelling weapons to Afghan allies and intensifying the civil war. The goal of all stakeholders has to be reconciliation to ensure stability can take root. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.