An agreement reached between the Taliban and the US only recently is, perhaps, the most crucial first step in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Regardless of what the future holds, it is clear to every stakeholder that there is no alternative but a negotiated end to the war. An important question remains: Will this agreement and the subsequent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan lay the foundation for sustainable peace? The answer is neither a clear-cut no nor a definite yes. The hopes for a durable peace depend on how events unfold in the coming days. Nevertheless, many actors and factors will also be crucial to peace in Afghanistan.

First and foremost, the US needs to realise that the key to peace in Afghanistan is next door in Pakistan. Pakistan’s clout with the Taliban is no secret. Its support and commitment to any peace plan are essential. So far, Pakistan has supported the US and facilitated peace talks with the Taliban like a good ally. The US will have to ensure that it continues to do so. The US will, therefore, need to offer Pakistan some incentive to raise its stakes in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. A free-trade deal with Pakistan would be a good incentive.

Besides, trust-building is yet another factor crucial to the success of the peace deal. The peace agreement, if followed by both sides, will lead to immediate cessation of violence. The US will halt its operations and the Taliban will put an end to their attacks as well. There will also be joint counter-terrorism efforts between the Taliban and the US against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. While this sounds good in theory, this mechanism will only work if there is genuine goodwill on both sides. The US has, for the past two decades, confounded the Taliban with Al-Qaeda.

It has fought them both, making no distinction among the two. Thus, if the US is to work with the Taliban, it will have to gain their trust. The same goes for the Taliban. The parties will have to partake in confidence-building measures, which may range from political concessions in government formation to releasing each other’s prisoners. The US will have to tread lightly on this path. It will have to foster a better working relationship with the Taliban without giving away concessions that may undo some critical gains, such as women’s rights and education.

Furthermore, intra-Afghan negotiations will be a painful and nerve-wracking process. Post troop withdrawal, the Afghan Government and the Taliban will have to negotiate with each other and figure out a way to share power. Agreement between these parties will help dispel the notion that the Afghan government is a US puppet. It will also give Afghans more voice in governing their own country. However, there remains a significant risk of civil war. And it is no secret that the Afghan National Security Forces are not competent enough to take on the Taliban. Thus, the US will have to be watchful and reserve the right to make changes to its troop withdrawal timeline.

Many commentators oppose the current peace process. They say that the Taliban will not honour this agreement and only use the troop withdrawal to their advantage. These critics advocate the continued use of military force against the Taliban. Yet the US has actively fought the Taliban for two decades, and the Taliban insurgency continues to grow stronger. Military operations against the Taliban serve as a recruiting poster for them. Furthermore, the ratio of civilian deaths from the US and Afghan forces operations is as high as civilian deaths caused by the Taliban. Continued military intervention in Afghanistan will be counter-productive.

A peace agreement may or may not work. But it is worth trying, nonetheless. It is a lesson of history that the world’s most protracted conflicts come to an end, not through military solution but political engagements. The Colombian Peace Deal is the most recent example. Afghanistan has now been in conflict for more than four decades. Many generations have come and gone during this conflict; many future ones will suffer a similar fate if this agreement doesn’t work. It is time for all parties in this conflict to stop viewing Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun. They should see it from a human perspective and give peace a chance.

Samey Noor

The writer is a graduate student at George Washington University. He can be reached at samey@gwmail.gwu.edu.