A peace agreement to end the War in Afghanistan could present its own risks to rebuilding efforts, a U.S. watchdog said on Thursday, calling on policymakers to plan for a post-peace deal environment.
“A peace agreement would be welcomed by the long-suffering Afghan people,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko said in Washington.
“But it could bring its own challenges to sustaining what the United States, coalition partners, and the Afghan government have achieved.”
Since 2002, the United States has spent $132 billion on training Afghan security and defense forces, strengthening institutions and other initiatives.
U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban regime in 2001 after the September 11 attacks in the United States but the insurgents regrouped and have steadily extended their influence during 17 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
The U.S. and Taliban peace talks began late last year, raising hopes for an end to the war. The latest round of negotiations ended this month with both sides citing progress.
In a report to U.S. Congress and the secretaries of state and defense, SIGAR said that even if the war with the Taliban ends, Afghanistan may remain insecure because of the presence of other militant groups.
Reintegrating the Taliban, whose Islamic views are more conservative than those of much of the population, would be a particular challenge, SIGAR said.
About 60,000 fighters are likely to find few job opportunities in a weak economy, it said.
Lasting peace could improve economic growth but in the short term, some 2 million Afghans living in Pakistan may return, adding job-seekers into a weak labor market.
While the Taliban has said in official statements they might consider more liberal policies towards women, their chief negotiator has said the constitution, which protects women’s rights, is an obstacle to peace, SIGAR wrote.
Such a stance could jeopardize the economic and political freedoms Afghan women have achieved.
More of the U.S. reconstruction effort has gone into the Afghan National Army than to its national police, and a strategy for a “competent” police force, sustained by foreign assistance, would also be required, SIGAR said in the report.
Endemic corruption has hampered reconstruction, and remains the “top strategic threat” to the government’s legitimacy, it said.
A burgeoning illicit opium trade also jeopardizes security, governance, and development.