On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban — after having been at war for over 19 years — signed the historic Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan. The agreement stipulates that the Taliban will prevent anyone from using Afghan soil to threaten the United States and their allies and enter into negotiations with other Afghan sides to forge an Afghanistan that is also at peace with itself. In return, the U.S. promised to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan. While some parts of the agreement have been implemented over the past year, others remain open and raise questions. Meanwhile, fighting between Taliban and Afghan government forces as well as terror attacks continue across Afghanistan.
According to the U.S.-Taliban Agreement, intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and other “Afghan sides” — the current Afghan government is, as a concession to the Taliban, not explicitly mentioned in the agreement — were supposed to start on March 10, 2020. However, they actually kicked off on September 12, 2020 in Doha, Qatar. The main reason for the delay was haggling over the release of Taliban prisoners, which was in turn caused by a lack of clarity as to what had actually been agreed upon.
The start of negotiations was welcomed as a historic opportunity. But no one expected swift progress. Negotiating the U.S.-Taliban Agreement took 18 months — and the U.S.-Taliban negotiations covered considerably fewer and less controversial points than the intra-Afghan negotiations, which have the gargantuan task of reconciling the Taliban’s and Afghan government’s views about what a peaceful Afghanistan looks like. Accordingly, intra-Afghan negotiations were always going to be fraught and drawn-out in the best of cases.
“The gap of what the Taliban and the Afghan government want [out of a peace agreement] and on what they are willing to compromise is very large,” Afghan researcher Ibraheem Bahiss summarized. This refers to the Taliban’s demand for an “Islamic system,” which, although not further specified, means a major overhaul if not complete change of the current republican state on the one hand, and the Afghan government’s desire to safeguard most of the current constitution, which is vilified as a Western copy by the Taliban, on the other.
In any event, the intra-Afghan negotiations started with setting rules and procedures for the actual substantial talks. The rules were finalized on December 2, 2020, nearly three months after the start of negotiations. After a recess in late December, the intra-Afghan negotiations resumed in early January 2021. The Taliban delegation and Afghan-government team are currently negotiating on an agenda — talking about what exactly the actual substantial talks should be about.
“The progress of talks has been extremely slow,” Bahiss said. “This is caused by the large gap between the negotiating sides as well as that all sides — the Afghan government, the Taliban, other Afghan actors participating in the negotiating team led by the Afghan government — have been hedging their bets, waiting to see what the new U.S. administration will do.”
Be that as it may, given the little time left, it is unlikely that intra-Afghan negotiations will yield any clear results by the end of April 2021 — the date set by the agreement for a full U.S. withdrawal. But that withdrawal, in the agreement, is is tied to some conditions that arguably have not been met.