Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

From Doha to Peace? Obstacles rising in the way of intra-Afghan talks

Thomas Ruttig 18 min

Two key documents to get an Afghan peace process started have been signed: the Doha “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” and a simultaneous bilateral United States-Afghan declaration. The two documents together are supposed to open the door for intra-Afghan peace talks, ie between the Taleban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 10 March. However, the Taleban’s declaration not to keep violence down after the end of the ‘reduction of violence’ week on 2 March; their continuing refusal to talk to the Afghan government; the government’s refusal to release prisoners which the US had told the Taleban they would and; the post-election domestic political conflict in Kabul each constitutes a significant obstacle for the talks to start as envisaged. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig looks at the content of the two documents and who they benefit the most, the impact of the ongoing political crisis in Kabul and other hurdles that arose before the start of intra-Afghan talks.

(L to R) US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and deputy Taleban leader Mullah Baradar shake hands after signing the Doha agreement during a ceremony in the Qatari capital on 29 February 2020. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP.

The ‘Doha agreement’

The US-Taleban “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” (1) signed in Qatar’s capital Doha on 29 February 2020 (henceforth in this text: the Doha agreement) describes itself as pertaining to two of the “four parts” of what will constitute a future “comprehensive peace agreement” for Afghanistan: guarantees by the Taleban on not letting Afghanistan be used by al-Qaeda and similar groups to threaten the US and its allies and the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops. The signatories to this agreement US Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taleban’s deputy leader for political affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani, better known as Mullah Baradar. It was witnessed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (here his Doha speech) and ministers and top diplomats from almost 30 other countries, but not anyone from the Afghan government or any other representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRoA). (Find the full text of the agreement here.)

The Doha agreement is present as “the first two parts” of a “comprehensive peace agreement.” The two main parts of the Doha agreement are:

  • “Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan”; specified as “all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel”;
  • “Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies”; they are specified as members of the Taleban and “any group or individual, including al-Qa’ida.”

The first guarantees pertains to a major demand of the Taleban, who maintain that the presence of US and other foreign troops, which they call an “occupation,” is the basic reason for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The second guarantee stipulates the actions the Taleban must take to deal with a major US security concern. 

The US withdrawal is to be phased and only the second and final phase is conditions-based. Firstly, 135 days after the signing of the agreement, ie by mid-July 2020, the US will have reduced its troop numbers to 8,600 (currently there are 12-13,000) and to fully withdraw from five military bases; NATO allies and other coalition forces will also be reduced proportionally. At the end of the second phase, lasting nine and a half months, ie by end of April 2021, the US will have withdrawn the rest of its troops, but only “with the commitment and action on the obligations… of the Taleban in Part 2 of this agreement.” Part 2 deals with threats to the security of the US and its allies from the Taleban, al-Qaeda and other groups. 

Furthermore, the Doha agreement stipulates that “intra-Afghan negotiations,” ie the real Afghan peace talks, will start on 10 March 2020. This is ten days after the signing of the agreement (a provision that was also reported as included in an earlier draft of the agreement that was almost signed in September 2019 already; read AAN background here). The agreement mentions two aims for these negotiations: a “permanent and sustainable ceasefire” and an “agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan.”

This agreement puts few obligations on the Taleban. The movement has committed itself not to “allow any of its members, other individual or groups, including al-Qa’ida to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” The Taleban are also specifically committed to not allowing released prisoners to threaten the security of the US and its allies. The hope that US ‘allies’ might include Afghanistan, ie Afghan government forces and civilians living in government-controlled areas, was dashed by the Taleban’s resumption of violence against Afghan forces the day after the agreement was signed (more on which below).

As to Taleban commitments on al-Qaeda and other groups, they comprise: “send[ing] a clear message” that they “have no place in Afghanistan”; not hosting them; preventing them from recruiting, training and fundraising; instructing members of the Taleban not to cooperate with them; not providing visas, passports or other documents allowing them to enter Afghanistan and; dealing “with those seeking asylum or residence in Afghanistan” in a way “that such persons do not pose a threat” to the US and its allies. There is no provision that commits the Taleban to hand over or expel foreign fighters. Indeed, the term ‘foreign fighters’ is not used at all; rather they are referred to as those posing a threat to the US and its allies.

Detail on how the Taleban’s obligations would be monitored and verified is absent from the agreement. It may have been included in what Pompeo referred to, as two “military implementation documents,” which are classified, he said, in order “to protect our soldiers.” Only the US Congress has access to them, he said at a 1 March 2020 press conference in Washington DC. 

A 28 February Washington Post report, based on an interview with General Austin “Scott” Miller, commander of US troops and the NATO Resolute Support mission, indicated that the US military had established a kind of ‘hotline’ with the Taleban that had already been used to convey urgent messages to deal with any breaches in the ‘reduction of violence’ week that ended on 28 February 2020 (AAN background here and here). Such an arrangement might be used to deal with concerns from either side on Taleban or other groups’ threats to US security, or indeed, US troop withdrawal.

In contrast to the Taleban’s commitments, the agreement contains many more obligations for the US in addition to withdrawing its troops, although all really only commit the US to seeking or requesting in the bid to achieve various goals. The US has agreed to: 

  • work with “all relevant sides” on a plan to release up to 5,000 Taleban prisoners and up to 1,000 prisoners of “the other side” (the wording is strange, indicating this may cover not only Afghans held by the Taleban, but also possibly foreign hostages – or it is a way to avoid naming the government forces as the Taleban do not recognise th Afghan government) by 10 March, “the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations”;
  • begin work on removing sanctions against members of the Taleban when intra-Afghan talks start; the US will review its own sanctions with the goal of lifting them by 27 August 2020 and start “diplomatic engagement with other members of the United Nations Security Council and Afghanistan” to remove UN sanctions by 29 May 2020.”
  • seek “positive” relations with the Taleban and “the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations”;
  • seek economic cooperation for reconstruction for a post-settlement Afghanistan
  • not intervene in Afghanistan’s internal affairs;
  • request the recognition and endorsement of the United Nations Security Council for this agreement.

Secretary of State Pompeo also said in his 1 March press conference that there were no “side deals.”

The US-Afghan declaration

The title of the “Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” dated 29 February 2020 and in which the IRoA “takes note” of the Doha agreement, reflects in its use of similar wording and concepts that it has to be considered as context to the US-Taleban agreement. Divergences between the two documents will be noted below. 

The agreement was made necessary by the Taleban’s refusal to countenance direct contacts with government officials, and the US’ need to find a way to bring the Afghan government on board despite this fact. (Find the declaration’s full text in English, Pashto and Dari here.) The declaration says: 

The U.S-Taliban agreement paves the way for intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan reaffirms its readiness to participate in such negotiations and its readiness to conclude a ceasefire with the Taliban.

Significantly, this declaration does not refer to 10 March 2020 as the date by which intra-Afghan peace talks should commence. It merely says that both sides commit to “create the conditions for reaching a political settlement” and a “permanent, sustainable ceasefire.” However, the agreement does appear to envisage a rapid timeline. For example, the IRoA is committed to start working with the UN Security Council to remove members of the Taleban when intra-Afghan negotiations start and with the aim of achieving this by 29 May 2019 or, “in any case,” no later than 30 days after a “framework agreement” and a “permanent and comprehensive” ceasefire have been finalised.

This stipulation about a framework agreement is interesting. It echoes US envoy Khalilzad’s approach to negotiating with the Taleban. He first reached a framework agreement with the Taleban, which set out the agenda for the negotiations and committed both parties to talk, in January 2019 (AAN background here). Then, in a second stage, from January 2019 to February 2020, both parties negotiated the details of the agenda issues already agreed upon.

The US/IRoA declaration echoes much of the Doha agreement, although the wording is often different. For example, both document specify:

  • a comprehensive (and in the declaration also “and sustainable”) peace agreement that consists of four “interrelated and independent” parts;
  • a two-phase US troop withdrawal, the second conditions-based;
  • confidence building measures, such as a prisoner exchange and delisting of Taleban from UN sanctions;
  • US commitments to maintain positive relations with and not to use the threat of force against Afghanistan.

The Afghan government mainly commits to joining the envisaged intra-Afghan peace talks, an aim it had long strived for, anyway. It also takes on board a commitment to fight al-Qaeda, the local Islamic State franchise, ISKP, and other terrorist groups on its soil “including through the production or distribution of narcotics.” In contrast, there is no reference to any other terrorist group, except al-Qaeda, or narcotics in the Taleban-US agreement. 

The US further commits to:

  • continue supporting the “Afghan security forces and other government institutions” and to seek funding for them;
  • build regional consensus for a political solution in Afghanistan;
  • refrain from intervening in Afghan domestic affairs. 

The US also offers to continue anti-terrorist operations against al-Qaida, ISKP and “other international terrorist groups” if the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan wishes it to, “consistent with” the mutual commitments “under existing security agreements.” Both sides emphasise the “special bond” between the US and Afghan security forces forged in the years of their common fight. They also express their commitment to “their investments in building the Afghan institutions necessary to establish democratic norms … and the rights of citizens” and to “promote social and economic advancements.”

The US further reiterates that it recognises the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a sovereign UN member-state. This reads like an assurance that the Doha agreement does not constitute a quasi-diplomatic recognition of the Taleban as a legitimate or even parallel government – hence the cumbersome formula used in the agreement of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.” (The IEA is the Taleban’s self-designation, expressing their position that they still are the legitimate government of the country overthrown by what they consider an illegal military intervention. The US intervention was sanctioned by the UN SC.) While the US does not recognise the Taleban “as a state,” it has recognised the movement as a political entity and party to the conflict in Afghanistan. This has already upset consecutive governments in Kabul, starting with the establishment of the Taleban political office in 2013 in Doha using, initially, the IEA insignia and flag (read AAN background here).

Problematic blanks and open questions

The most eye-catching feature of the Doha agreement is how much it sidelines the Afghan government and the IRoA and how much, therefore, it amounts to a Taleban diplomatic victory. This is despite the simultaneously issued US-Afghan declaration including many statements intended to reassure Kabul that US support will continue. On a closer look, however, those statements of support look rather weak. The US seems to shed some financial burden, such as funding the Afghan forces, to allies and has so far not officially recognised incumbent Ashraf Ghani as the 2019 election winner, which would have boosted his position vis-à-vis the Taleban in the planned talks. (It has only “noted” that he was declared winner and called on “the new government to be inclusive and reflect the aspirations of all Afghans.”)

There are four details in the declaration and agreement that further weaken the position of the Afghan government:

  • First, the US has not said it would complete its troop withdrawal only when there is a peace agreement finalised.

The completion of the withdrawal, as outlined above, is tied only to the Taleban’s commitments under Part 2 of the agreement which deals with threats to the security of the US and its allies from the Taleban and al-Qaeda and similar groups. Secretary of Defence Esper did call the 14-month timeline “aspirational,” in a TV interview on the day the agreement was signed (quoted here). Also, via an op-ed in the Washington Post on 1 March he insisted that the withdrawal is conditional on progress on the intra-Afghan peace agreement. However, this is nowhere mentioned in either the agreement or the declaration. As far as the agreement goes, the US can leave with intra-Afghan talks and intra-Afghan conflict ongoing.

  • Second, the provision that the Afghan government releases “up to 5,000” Taleban prisoners before intra-Afghan peace talks commence appeared not to have been agreed with the government. Agreeing to this would mean the Afghan government giving away its one strong bargaining chip with the Taleban even before talks started. (The Taleban have read this provision as a release of all of its prisoners, see this media report.)
  • Third, the agreement does not provide for the future direct role of the Afghan government. It only says that “Afghan sides” should participate in talks with the Taleban.

Meanwhile, even apart from their standard non-recognition of Kabul governments (because they are ‘puppets’), the Taleban’s Sher Abbas Stanakzai, insisted in an interview given on 29 February in Doha that “today there is no government in Afghanistan” because “the elections weren’t held in a transparent manner [and] public turnout was quite low.”

  • Fourth, it is eye-catching that the US-Taleban agreement protects the US and its allies, but not the Afghan population, government or security forces against threats from the Taleban and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda (see this AAN background).

The US has, by contrast, reached an agreement highly favourable to the Taleban. Abdul Salam Za’if, former Taleban diplomat who returned to Kabul after having been imprisoned in Guantanamo (he still considers himself a member of the movement and uses “we” for the Taleban) said in an interview in Doha, where he attended the signing ceremony, that “all” their demands had been fulfilled. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Taleban celebrated the signing of the agreement as “a day of victory” (see Stanakzai quoted here). Taleban leader Mawlawi Hebatullah Akhunzada also used the term in a statement dated 29 February and posted on the Taleban’s website, saying the “termination of [the] occupation of Afghanistan” enshrined in the agreement with the US was a “victory.“

Another part in his statement has particularly irked many in the Afghan public, namely when he offered forgiveness and a pardon to all those who had opposed the Taleban: “Anyone who partook in hostilities against the Islamic Emirate or anyone with reservations about the Islamic Emirate is forgiven and pardoned for all past actions.” Hadi Marifat, Executive Director of the NGO Afghan Human Rights and Democracy Organisation, called this an “insult” on Twitter and said the Taleban leader should instead have made “[a] plea [to] his victims [for] forgiveness.” 

There are also a few open questions on both documents, such as:

  • What would happen to the existing bilateral US-Afghan security agreement, signed in October 2014 and usually known by the acronym BSA (read AAN background here)?
  • Would the withdrawal of American and other forces’ “non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel” and other nation’s forces also cover foreign intelligence, specifically CIA paramilitaries?

The Taleban resumes fighting against Afghan government forces 

Immediately after the signing of the agreement, the Taleban killed any illusion that the week-long ‘reduction of violence’ that ended on 28 February, but was extended for the day of the signing in Doha, might continue at least until the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks. On 1 March, President Ghani had announced his intention to maintain the reduction in violence at least until then. Also the US military and diplomats have created the impression that, as General Miller put it on 27 February, “that the Taliban will continue to reduce its attacks” after the reduction of violence week, still including attacks on Afghan government forces. But Stanakzai told Tolonews in the above-cited interview:

Based on the agreement, from tomorrow (1 March), the war between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the US will drop to zero, it means they will not stage attacks on each other, but when it comes to the war between the Taliban and the Kabul administration forces (term used by the Taliban for the Afghan govt), it needs a new agreement which will be discussed in the intra-Afghan talks.

In the evening of 2 March, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed confirmed to AFP that:

The reduction in violence… has ended now and our operations will continue as normal. …  As per the (US-Taliban) agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.

Small-scale fighting and other incidents did indeed being the day after the agreement was signed. Incidents reported on 1 and 2 March included: fighting in Zabul (see here and here) Jowzjan; an assassination attempt on a government military officer in Kandahar; reports of the kidnapping of 50 civilians in Taleban-controlled Chak district of Maidan Wardak province and; the detonation of a motorcycle bomb at a football match in Nader Shah Kot, Khost province, which killed three civilians. It was not immediately clear whether these were the only incidents taking place on 1 and 2 March, whether the Taleban were behind some or all of them or whether they had already pushed the number of security incidents to higher than the number seen during the reduction in violence week. On 3 March, the Afghan Ministry of Interior reportedly had counted 33 Taleban attacks in 16 provinces over the previous 24 hours with six dead and 14 wounded. That is significantly higher than during the ‘reduction of violence’ week but still 50 to 60 per cent below the usual average. 

On the day of the signing of the Doha agreement, four policemen were killed and a fifth wounded in what Kandahar police spokesman Jamal Nasir Barakzai called a “remote-controlled” landmine blast in Mianeshin district of Kandahar province. Barakzai said the policemen had been supplying rations to a check-post in the area. (2)

During the reduction in violence week, people In a number of provinces had come out to demonstrate their demand for a lasting ceasefire and peace. The Taleban announcement of a return to war, and those first attacks, particularly the one against the soccer players and supporters in Khost, may have already killed the hopes of those demanding peace now.

Obstacles to talks going ahead

a) Prisoners release

The first immediately contentious issue is the prisoner release, envisaged by the US-Taleban agreement as taking place before talks start on 10 March and couched more vaguely in the US-Afghan declaration: 

To create the conditions for reaching a political settlement and achieving a permanent, sustainable ceasefire, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will participate in a U.S.-facilitated discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides. The United States and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will seek the assistance of the ICRC to support this discussion.

It seems obvious that Khalilzad had promised prisoner releases to the Taleban, without getting President Ghani’s agreement. Ghani had already made it clear on 20 February (media reports here and here), more than a week before the signing of the Doha agreement, that this issue would need to be part of Afghan government negotiations with the Taleban. At a press conference in Kabul on 1 March (see here and here), he affirmed that he had made “no commitment” to releasing 5,000 prisoners, that the release of detainees was “not in the domain of the U.S. [and that o]nly the Afghan government has that authority.” He said the issue “could be included in the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks,” but could not be “a prerequisite for talks.” 

Rather than the almost immediate prison exchange envisaged in the agreement, no timeline is stipulated in the declaration; rather the prison exchange is couched as an example of a “confidence-building measure” with discussions between the Afghan government and the Taleban to be facilitated by the US.

For this purpose, Ghani had sent a six-person negotiating team to Doha before the signing ceremony. The Taleban said they had refused to meet the group. On 2 March, a presidential spokesman said the team had “made contact” with the Taleban. On 3 March, Suhail Shahin, the spokesman of the Taleban’s Doha office, confirmed this indirectly but insisted that only “authorities responsible for the prisoners on both sides could meet to discuss the release” of the prisoners.

The prisoners issue gives Ghani his one means to try to get the Taleban – who have so far refused to directly negotiate with representatives of the government – to sit down with the government officially and not just with individuals in their private capacities, as was the case during the July 2019 intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha (read AAN background here).

If Kabul cannot bring the Taleban to accept the government as at least one element of the other side’s negotiating team, it would give the upper hand to the Taleban from the very start of peace talks; the Taleban would the face only a heterogeneous delegation not representing the administration. More damaging still would be if the Taleban were allowed to veto who was an ‘acceptable’ member of the Kabul delegation, as was also the case for the July 2019 Doha meeting.

Stanekzai has made it clear that – as indeed is specified in the US-Taleban agreement – intra-Afghan talks would start on 10 March only “once 5,000 of our hostages … are released. If the prisoners are not released on time then the intra-Afghan talks will be delayed.” 

b) Whither a ‘Kabul’ negotiation team?

With only a week to go to the supposed start of the Afghan peace talks, the two heads of the National Unity Government, which in practice, has been virtually defunct for a long time, Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah, are now at loggerheads about who won the September 2019 presidential election (read AAN background here). Over the past few days, the Ghani camp has insisted he won the election, based on the 18 February verdict of the Independent Election Commission (AAN background here). Abdullah has not conceded, a stance somehow supported by most governments’ failure to congratulate Ghani on his second term. 

The Ghani camp did try to bring Abdullah on board by offering Abdullah a role overseeing the IRoA negotiating team the members of which need to be nominated by he planned start of intra-Afghan talks. It offered no executive government role, however, and has refused to countenance a new version of the National Unity Government (NUG) in any form. Abdullah has made no public statement on this offer, either way, except saying there were no contacts about this issue with the palace and that “efforts to form a negotiating team will be expedited once US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad visits Kabul” – which, according to some records, is already happening.

That Abdullah – in contrast to most other heavyweight politicians – attended the ceremony to mark the joint US-Afghan declaration on 29 February in Kabul could be seen as a conciliatory step. He has made clear, however, that his presence did not constitute a recognition that Ghani had won the election. During a separate press conference, he stated that he attended as part of the NUG. More likely, his presence was designed to ensure continuing good relations with the US. (There was an initial row at the ceremony as Dr Abdullah’s seat had been put in the second row. However, this was soon resolved, eye witnesses told AAN.)

So far, it seems the two political camps have found a common language at least on this issue, that talks with the Taleban are intimately linked to the defence of what both now call the ‘republican system’ as enshrined in the current constitution. However, there is no indication, that they have met to discuss a team or a negotiating line or that either Ghani or Abdullah have taken any measure to ensure the participation of wider Afghan society, as represented by organised civil society and with women as a key component in the negotiating team. There is, indeed, no sign that they have at least taken fully on board the need for close coordination in the task of defending Afghan citizen’s democratic and human rights as enshrined in the current Afghan legal system.

Clearly, if these two leaders fail to reach a mutually acceptable compromise over the government and the negotiating team, this would undermine, to a great degree, any IRoA delegation in talks with the Taleban.

c) Looming inaugurations

For the period of the signing of the declaration, the Abdullah-Ghani quarrel over who is president appeared to have gone to a ceasefire, as the two rivals both postponed plans for their 26 February 2020 presidential inauguration ceremonies, presumably as a result of US pressure. Now, Ghani at least appears have a new date pencilled into the diary – 9 March 2020 – the day  before the peace talks are supposed to commence. Members of the Ghani camp seem to believe, however, that the 10 March date is not cast in stone, particularly as the Joint Declaration does not refer to it.

The latest stance of the US government on the presidential wrangle is not clear. A tweet posted on 26 February by US envoy Khalilzad saying that “the electoral process has concluded, President Ghani, as the declared winner” was widely interpreted as a recognition of Ghani’s victory in Kabul. However, it was so far from the usual official congratulations received by newly-elected presidents to carry not great assurance of Washington’s support to his claim.

Conclusion

With their agreement with the Taleban, the US has further undermined the Afghan government and the Republic and delivered a diplomatic victory to the Taleban. Moreover, the agreement now hangs on a very thin thread. Khalilzad’s apparent double-dealing – telling the Taleban their prisoners would be freed without getting agreement for this from Ghani – threatens to undermine the intra-Afghan talks from the very beginning. His agreement to Taleban demands on prisoners would take away Kabul’s only strong card in return only for a promise to start talks. It is not surprising that Ghani has not agreed to the releases, even though it put him in an even more precarious position as he risks to antagonise the US, his government’s key funder and military supporter,. This latest example of the US undermining the Afghan government was not the first: the elections were also damaged by Khalilzad’s talk of an ‘interim government’, and the lack of any explicit support to key constitutional institutions in the agreement is also concerning. 

Most significantly, the US long ago gave up on its original approach that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” when it decided to relegate the two issues of Taleban and Afghan government talks and a permanent ceasefire to the period after it had removed itself (the Taleban’s main enemy) on the battlefield) from the battlefield. Moreover, its commitments are due to leave Afghan government forces or civilians unprotected. The withdrawal started “today,” Trump told the American public on 1 March and the order to start the withdrawal has been given on 2 March. Meanwhile the Taleban have chosen not to extend their ‘reduction of violence’ beyond the signing of the agreement. Afghans now face the queasy prospect of the Taleban’s ‘jihad’ only targeting other Afghans, almost all of them fellow Muslims. This has been the actual character of most of the Taleban’s war effort since the ISAF withdrawal completed at the end of 2014; now, it has become official. The US, meanwhile, have the choice whether they stick to the conditionality they laid out in the Doha agreement or not when deciding about their troop withdrawal.

Against the backdrop of the Taleban’s decision to resume attacks on Afghan government forces and possibly civilian government installations, but not US or other foreign targets, the contentious prisoner exchange issue and the domestic political turmoil between the Ghani and Abdullah camps in Kabul, the commencement of intra-Afghan peace talks within the envisaged ten days seems increasingly unlikely. Just three days after the signing of the Doha agreement and the joint US-Afghan declaration, there is already an unravelling of what needs to happen before Afghan parties can sit down together to discuss peace. That may be sorted out, but not, it seems, without concessions from Ghani or the Taleban, or both, on prisoners. Meanwhile, the resumption of Taleban attacks goes against the spirit of the Doha agreement. The little hope and momentum created by the seven-day reduction of violence in this, the world’s most violent conflict may already have been lost.

Edited by Jelena Bjelica and Kate Clark

(1) The full title is “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America.” 

(2) During that week, the usual intensity of the war in February (see AAN figures here) had dropped by an estimated 80 to 90 per cent from a daily average of 50 incidents per day in the months of February in the period from 2014 to 2019. 

The Afghan Ministry of Interior had reportedly registered only 13 incidents in the first three days. The Afghan news agency Pajhwok registered a decline by 94 per cent during the past four days. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also confirmed after day six that the US had seen a significant reduction in violence in Afghanistan during the past six days. 

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