The Doha Agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, not only set a date for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, but it also included certain obligations for the Taliban.
Under this agreement, the Taliban are obligated to take measures to prevent terrorist groups from threatening the security of the US and its allies and to engage in a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue that would produce a political settlement. The hasty US troop withdrawal in August 2021 emboldened the Taliban to disregard their obligations under the deal and encouraged them to prioritize political takeover instead of a sustainable peace mechanism for Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s Public Intellectuals Fail to Denounce the Taliban
The Doha Agreement and its contents undermined the sovereign Afghan government at the time and provided an upper hand to the Taliban in both war and peace. Certain assurances in the deal enabled the Taliban to become stronger in both battlefield action and narrative propagation.
These include the agreement’s references to a “new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government”; clauses on the release of Taliban combatants referred to as “political prisoners”; indirect legitimization of the Taliban shadow government by virtue of stipulations such as “the Taliban will not provide visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents”; and a complete lack of any mention of human rights protections in Afghanistan.
Another Case of Failed Peacemaking
The agreement is not the only pact that was expected to bring a peaceful end to the conflict in the country. In 1988, the Geneva Accords concluded under the auspices of the UN between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the US and the Soviet Union serving as state guarantors, provided an overall framework for the settlement of the Afghan conflict and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Likewise, the Bonn Agreement in 2001 — irrespective of whether it is categorized as a peace deal —established a process to manage the political transition in the post-Taliban Afghanistan. It briefly outlined steps from the formation of an interim administration to the development of a new constitution and holding elections.
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However, neither the Geneva Accords nor the Bonn Agreement were successful and ultimately failed to foster conditions necessary for enabling a comprehensive settlement to Afghanistan’s complicated problem. More recently, the Taliban’s abject disregard for their commitments under the Doha Agreement, combined with the United States’ rushed exit, sped up the Taliban’s reemergence, once again closing an already narrow window of opportunity for achieving a durable political solution to the protracted conflict in Afghanistan.
There is indeed a qualitative difference between the Geneva Accords, the Bonn Agreement and the Doha Agreement. However, one of the key reasons for their failure, among other factors, is that they are silent on the main cause of the conflict in Afghanistan — i.e., ethnic conflict.
Afghanistan is a multiethnic country where the various ethnic groups are also geographically fragmented. Historically, divisions over who should lead the country and how have been among the core contentious issues in Afghanistan. Disagreements on this matter have manifested in violent ways in the 1990s and non-violent ways in the outcome of four presidential elections held based on the 2004 constitution. Overlooking of the main cause of the conflict and an absence of a viable mechanism for power redistribution among ethnic groups is a common thread that connects each of the three agreements that failed and continued to fuel instability.
The Current Situation
Less than two years since the Doha Agreement was signed, in August 2021, Kabul, the Afghan capital, fell to the Taliban. In the aftermath of this development, residences of several former government officials, particularly those from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), were raided and these personnel members were either killed or imprisoned. A UN report found that over 100 personnel from the Afghan security forces and others associated with the former Afghan government have been killed in the country, despite the Taliban announcing a general amnesty.
Moreover, despite the demands from the international community for the formation of an inclusive government, respect for human rights and counterterrorism assurances, the Taliban have refused to make any concessions. They have brazenly continued suppressing all dissenting voices, severely limiting women’s rights and persecuting civil society members and journalists.
Peace in Afghanistan?
It was apparent from day one that the prospects of the post-July 2018 efforts for a political settlement in Afghanistan were uncertain at best. The Doha Agreement simply laid out a possible schedule for the US withdrawal instead of guarantee or measures enabling a durable political settlement or peace process. The Taliban too negotiated the deal with the US with the aim of winning the war rather than seeking a peace deal or political settlement with their opponents.
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The chaotic withdrawal of American forces and the mayhem at Kabul airport — which was reminiscent of the US pullout from Vietnam — has not only damaged the image of a powerful country like the US around the world, but has also established its reputation as an unreliable ally in times of difficulty. Given historical patterns and the Taliban’s track record, in the absence of any qualitative change of circumstances on the ground, the international community’s positive overtures to the Taliban might be yet another folly.
As it stands, the prospects for peace in Afghanistan will remain distant for as long as the Taliban own the entire political apparatus rather than participate as a party in an inclusive and representative government and respect dissenting voices. In the meantime, the international community should use sanctions mechanisms and official recognition as the few remaining tools of leverage to hold the Taliban accountable to their commitments and to international legal standards.