GP Insights # 478, 28 February 2021
On 22 February, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem via Twitter stated “This evening, a meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere between the leaders and some members of the two delegations for the inter-Afghan talks. The meeting emphasized the need to continue negotiations. And assigned groups to set the agenda, to continue their meetings on the subject.” The resumption of talks comes after weeks of delays, escalating violence and a change in US diplomatic leadership as the Biden administration took office. On 25 February, the Afghan Republic and the Taliban negotiators held their third meeting with the main focus of the talks being on the agenda of the negotiations.
On 21 February, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation stated that the Taliban violence remains high and that the Afghan people are bearing the sacrifice, calling on the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.
What is the background?
First, the stalled negotiations. The first round of the intra-Afghan negotiations ended on 14 December 2020 after three months of talks. During that round, the teams barely managed to agree on the rules of procedure for the talks themselves and exchange preliminary lists of issues they wanted on the agenda. The second round of intra-Afghan negotiations was scheduled to begin on 5 January 2021, in Doha. However, the negotiations in Doha were stalled as both sides did not meet to discuss the agenda mainly because of the Taliban’s missing presence in Doha. Since the resumption of talks, the Taliban has been on a diplomatic spree with multiple visits to Iran and Russia, Turkmenistan and Turkey seeking support for the US-Taliban Agreement. As a result, the Afghan government’s negotiating team warned that if the Taliban failed to resume the talks, the government would recall its team from Doha.
Second, the shift in the US administration and one year of the US-Taliban deal. The reason for a lack of urgency in the continuing talks has been attributed to the change in the US administration led by President Joe Biden and their policy on Afghanistan. As the Biden administration is reviewing the US-Taliban agreement signed in February 2020, the Taliban sent an open letter calling on the US to adhere to its part of the agreement by fully withdrawing its troops.
Third, the continuing surge in violence amid the stalled talks. According to reports released by the UNAMA in 2020, violence has surged across Afghanistan, with ground fighting causing the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops. The reports cited that nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on, despite efforts to find peace.
What does it mean?
Although both the Taliban and government leaders have said that these talks are a “unique, historic opportunity” for Afghans to solve their differences. The sense of urgency from either side to find common ground, reduce violence and move forward seems to be missing in the current round of negotiations. Rather, the resumption of talks seems to be personally motivated from each side. With intra-Afghan negotiations having barely scraped the surface of substantial talks, any significant breakthrough remains highly unlikely.
As the United States reviews its Afghanistan policy which has so far yielded few concrete results, the agreement still has its leverage to help stop attacks and encourage a ceasefire. However, what the reviewed agreement will look like and if the Taliban accepts it, remains in question.