The peace process is going through its most intricate phase as Afghan leaders from all sides struggle to find common ground.
The US and Taliban signed the first phase of an agreement on Saturday in Doha, which will lead to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops and the start of extensive peace talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
This deal came after the successful completion of a week-long reduction in violence in Afghanistan which was meant to show the US that Taliban leadership has control over its fighters on the ground.
Ahmad Shuja Jamal, director-general for international affairs in Afghan’s national security council, said in a tweet last Friday: “This is an important opportunity for the Taliban to demonstrate their seriousness for peace and ending the suffering of the Afghan people.”
At the moment the Afghan government is not part of the negotiations as they are facing problems with the outcome of their presidential elections.
At an event organised at the UK parliament by the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former UK minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who worked directly with the government of Afghanistan, said: “I am cynical, as the US elections are coming up. Will this happen so that Trump can gain more votes? So many things are unclear to me, such as the time frame of the withdrawal of the US troops and future role of Taliban. We can't go and intervene in another country and expect that peace will be secured.”
What happens next?
The United States and foreign partner forces have to remove their troops from Afghanistan within 14 months. Moreover, the Taliban needs to create a bridge with the Western-backed Kabul government and push back against jihadist groups including Al Qaeda.
"The other side's tired of war. Everybody is tired of war. [It has] been a particularly long and gruesome one," US President Donald Trump said in Washington, welcoming the agreement.
Shabnam Nasimi, director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, said: ''Implementing and verifying each step in this process will require meticulous diplomacy, but this reported agreement could mark a major turning point in the effort to end the war in Afghanistan.''
The deal says all foreign troops will leave if the Taliban stop jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh from planning attacks against Washington and its allies. The Taliban has to also sent a "clear message" to those threatening the West that they "have no place in Afghanistan".
Another part of the US-Taliban agreement calls for a massive prisoner exchange, something the militants have been demanding for years. The Taliban should release up to 1,000 prisoners and the Afghan government should release around 5,000 insurgent captives by March 10, when the talks are supposed to start.
In the meantime, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who faces a political crisis following claims of fraud in his recent re-election, said he would not commit to this requirement.
As a result, the Taliban said on Monday they will restart offensive operations against Afghan security forces, ending the partial truce.
Can the Taliban be trusted?
Afghanistan is still riven by tribal and ethnic rivalries, and leaders struggle to find common ground on important issues.
British journalist and author, Christina Lamb OBE, who has comprehensively covered the Afghan politics and travelled with the mujahidin while they were fighting Russians, commented last Tuesday at the same event organised by the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan: “[The] Taliban are known to be really good negotiators. They have little to lose from this deal. Up until now, both Trump and the Taliban want the US troops to leave. The problem is that 90 percent of the funds of Afghanistan come from the US, as the Taliban is a military group, so the question is what happens next?”
Ahmadzai added: “The dialogue between the two sides can happen behind closed doors. I hope this will not be the start of a new war. NATO and EU countries keep pressure for peace in Afghanistan.”
Concerns over this deal
In December 2018, the Taliban announced it would meet US officials to try to restore peace, and after nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seem finally close to signing an agreement.
However, the exodus of US troops from Afghanistan could increase membership for Daesh, as Taliban fighters are unhappy with their group’s participation in the peace process defect. Plus, the Taliban does not recognise the government of Afghanistan.
Before the US invasion, the Taliban made people strictly follow Islamic law under which girls were not allowed to attend school, women had limited access to work, and their movements and appearance were carefully controlled. Mullah Abdul Ghani Beradar, the founder of the Taliban movement, was asked by Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, the former chief election commissioner of India how the Taliban would treat women if the US left Afghanistan. “Women would have rights,” he said. “But only according to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.” So it is possible that after the withdrawal women's rights and their position in society could be limited too.
In terms of funds and weapons, Iran has strong relations with the Taliban, however following US sanctions, the blacklist by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the travel ban from some countries due to the deadly outbreak of Coronavirus, it seems that now Iran is struggling to cope financially too.
Mohammad Hanif Ahmadzai, Political Counselor at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the United Kingdom, said last Tuesday at the event organised by the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan: “[The] Taliban were oriented towards the Middle East. This tone has changed. We might see a greater engagement from China and India, if the US troops be pulled out from Afghanistan.”