US and Taliban Talks Update

Representatives from the United States and the Taliban met last Monday, February 25th for another round of conversation regarding a potential peace agreement between the two parties. This round of negotiations has been the highest-level negotiations since the beginning of the peace talks with the presence of Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the international mission in Afghanistan. While the first part of the negotiations began on Monday, there was a midweek hiatus with resumed talks on Saturday, March 2nd. As with the previous round of negotiations, the Afghan government is still being excluded, as the Taliban refuses to engage with President Ashraf Ghani or his officials.

 

During this most recent round of the Doha talks, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with Mullah Baradar, one of the founders of the Taliban insurgency group. This is following the round of talks from January, when U.S. representatives and Taliban representatives agreed to a framework in principle regarding the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. While this framework is still in a draft stage, it will be developed into an agreement approved by both parties. Referring to the framework, Khalilzad stated, "We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement… the Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals." The current talks have been focused on expanding the framework agreement, which state that the United States has to withdraw all troops from the country, and the Taliban cannot carry out terrorist activities on Afghan soil.

 

A new Pentagon plan has been introduced in the peace negotiations, which would see a government in Afghanistan that shares power with the Taliban. The New York Times reported, “The plan calls for cutting by half, in coming months, the 14,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan. It would task the 8,600 European and other international troops with training the Afghan military — a focus of the NATO mission for more than a decade — and largely shift American operations to counterterrorism strikes.” While no decisions have been made, this plan would see the shift of American services drastically. This plan is intended to help with the current talks led by Zalmay Khalilzad.

 

The United States’ decision to hold talks with the Taliban without the Afghan government present is a significant policy shift from previous administrations, as any agreement drafted by the two parties would not include the Afghan government’s input. This policy decision legitimizes the Taliban as a potential governmental entity, as major resolutions are being made with Taliban representatives. If a peace agreement is reached between the United States and the Taliban, it is unclear how, and even if, the Afghan government and the Taliban would be able to settle their differences and establish a joint administration.

 

The potential peace agreement will have long-lasting consequences for Afghanistan, with concern especially for minority communities. The changes that could be made regarding the condition of women in the country have particularly been met with apprehension, as the Taliban has been historically restrictive regarding this population’s rights. The New York Times stated, “Before it was ousted in 2001, the Taliban was accused of human rights abuses, prohibited girls from attending school and imposed harsh penalties on accused heretics.” The possible return to extremism within Afghanistan is a fear held by many, especially due to the exclusion of the Afghan government in these domestic changes and the withdrawal of American forces from the country. As the Afghan government currently has no say in the monumental domestic policy changes that are being drafted between the United States and the Taliban, it is possible that their authority will be reduced significantly by the terrorist organization.

 Photo Credit: Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP