On the third anniversary of the Doha Agreement, signed on February 29, 2020, between the United States and the Afghan Taliban (not as a state), US spokesperson Ned Price said that the Afghan Taliban were empowered by the agreement. He said that the agreement had “weakened our partners” in the then President Ghani-led Afghan government. The Afghan Taliban, in its statement, celebrated the day on which the US-led foreign troops were finally forced to withdraw from Afghanistan after fighting a 20-year-long “jehad”, paving the way for the Taliban’s return.
There is, thus, a radical difference in the understanding of the Doha Agreement from the points of view of the US and other countries, and the Taliban. The Taliban believe that the purpose of the Agreement, if anything, was to free Afghanistan from the presence of foreign troops and to let them decide the fate of the country. The US, on the other hand, deems that the Taliban has not heeded its concerns and has not kept its promises.
The Doha Agreement had four main conditions: the Taliban would not let terrorists use Afghan territory against the US and its allies; foreign forces would withdraw in a specific time period; the Taliban would start negotiations with other Afghan groups; and a permanent ceasefire would be on the agenda of those negotiations. All these conditions were tied to security for the US and some assurances from the Taliban to begin negotiations with the government of then President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
Does delinking issues work?
The Doha Agreement was not a peace agreement in the conventional sense of a peace treaty, nor was it a detailed plan to implement a reconciliation process among various factions in Afghanistan. The pact was simply aimed at handing over the “conflict” to the local “party” and a way for the US and its allies to wash their hands of the mess they had created in the country. For that, the US did not even bother to involve what it now calls its “partners”. The international community and the United Nations are now raising the issues of women’s rights and minority protection with the Taliban. However, the Taliban, without a strong internal opposition, feel no need or obligation to abide by the stated or verbal assurances regarding the rights of women and minorities.
Women’s rights are an important issue, but delinking it from other major structural issues will not help. On the issue of including non-Taliban groups in the administration, the Taliban is bound to make a keen assessment of the pros and cons of being in control of the limited resources available in the country and prioritise the need to take care of their own cadre.
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The overriding issue that links the three major concerns about Afghanistan—ensuring women’s rights, engaging with other ethnic groups in the country, and Afghan territory becoming a haven for transitional terrorists—is the Taliban’s rejection of dialogue for national reconciliation among the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, and others.
On a visit to Kabul in late February, the UN Secretary General’s Deputy Special Representative to Afghanistan Markus Potzel met former President Hamid Karzai and issued a statement saying there was a need for a “national dialogue to ensure peace” in Afghanistan. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, in response, said, “It’s not time to talk political issues with politicians” and added that the people were with the Taliban. It was a clear sign that the Taliban, in the absence of internal or external pressure, were in no mood to address the concerns of the international community.
The global community’s call to address women’s rights is not enough to help tackle the issue. It is now dependent on the Taliban’s “goodness”, and it may only lead to the granting of select rights (if it chooses to follow that path) in order to ward off criticism. This will not ensure the systematic delivery of rights for women, and they will remain subject to the Taliban’s whims and policies.
Similarly, calling for the Taliban to protect minority rights does not serve the purpose of making sure that minorities are not systematically targeted or deprived of their inviolable rights.
One reason for the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with other Afghan factions is the lack of an opposition within the nation. Once they captured Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Taliban easily took control of the country, unlike the situation in the 1990s. They were helped by the existing administrative structure, which was created by the previous administration. The Taliban just replaced the people at the top. Even one and a half years later, there is no opposition, political or armed, to the Taliban rule. Externally, too, there is no concerted effort to change things from the international community, barring statements asking the Taliban to grant women their rights. And they have not helped so far.
The Taliban has been demanding recognition from the international community, not by accepting the existing rules, norms and laws of international society but on its own terms and understanding. So, the question becomes, “What is in store for the nation if the Taliban are given recognition or if they are denied it?” Any recognition of the Taliban would undermine the country’s fight for women’s rights, the rights of non-Taliban groups and minority rights.
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If they are denied recognition, there will be other problems as well, in addition to the above three. The Taliban are already finding it difficult to exert control over the vast and rough terrains of Afghanistan. They will have no incentive to control the movements and activities of transnational terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, and the Pakistani Taliban. This will lead to the mushrooming of terror groups and create security threats for neighbouring countries and the world at large.
The international community’s best option seems to be to engage with the Taliban. This, however, should not happen at an individual nation level as countries like China, Russia, Türkiye and Iran appear to be doing by allowing Taliban diplomats to function from their respective countries. The engagement should be done at an international institutional level through bodies such as the UN. Only such engagement would help in bringing collective pressure on the group. That can help ensure that the rights of women and minorities are protected, and appropriate action is taken against terrorists who are, according to various UN reports, operating from that country.
Such a path would raise the possibility of a power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and other factions and the protection of people’s rights. This would also create space for non-Taliban factions, with the support of the UN, to manoeuvre the power-sharing structure so as to oppose specific Taliban dictates, such as the prohibition of women’s education and the imposition of the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam.
Dr. Nazir Ahmad Mir is a researcher, at present with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
- There is a radical difference in the understanding of the Doha Agreement from the points of view of the US and other countries, and the Taliban.
- The Doha Agreement had four main conditions: the Taliban would not let terrorists use Afghan territory against the US and its allies; foreign forces would withdraw in a specific time period; the Taliban would start negotiations with other Afghan groups; and a permanent ceasefire would be on the agenda of those negotiations.
- The overriding issue that links the three major concerns about Afghanistan—ensuring women’s rights, engaging with other ethnic groups in the country, and Afghan territory becoming a haven for transitional terrorists—is the Taliban’s rejection of dialogue for national reconciliation among the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, and others.
- One reason for the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate with other Afghan factions is the lack of an opposition within the nation.