Taliban Warn: If Doha Accord Is Violated, No Peace in Afghanistan
US faces May 1 deadline for troop withdrawal, with no easy option in sight
[Islamabad] One year after the signing of the February 29, 2020 US-Taliban provisional peace agreement, the Afghan group called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops by a May 1 deadline.
Any attempt to renegotiate the accord will result in the failure of peace efforts, the Taliban warned in a statement released to the press.
“We have delivered on our commitments; we did not allow anyone to use Afghanistan’s soil to threaten the security of the US, its citizens and allies,” the Islamist movement said on Sunday.
However, the Taliban continued its attacks on Afghan security forces, saying the peace agreement was signed with the US administration and not with Kabul.
The Taliban said the agreement had “significantly reduced violence” while also accusing the US of violating the accord. “The US has continued the bombing of Taliban ‘hideouts,’” the group’s statement said.
Nevertheless, the Taliban expressed optimism about the prospect of peace talks.
“Despite a few shortcomings, the peace agreement moves smoothly toward a positive direction,” the press release said.
Under the provisional accord reached in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban pledged to not attack American troops stationed in Afghanistan, and the US agreed to completely withdraw its forces from the country.
It was also agreed that for lasting peace in Afghanistan, direct talks between the Taliban and the Kabul-based Afghan government would begin as soon as possible, with the parties first releasing each other’s prisoners.
Direct peace talks between the Taliban and the government had been scheduled to begin in March 2020 but were delayed several times because of disagreements over the prisoner swap. However, the government released 5,000 Taliban members and the Taliban released 1,000 Afghan security officials.
The intra-Afghan peace talks began on September 12, 2020, in Doha. They lasted three months and ended inconclusively. They resumed in January 2021 but once again stalled.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan peace and reconciliation, has resumed his mission for the first time under the Biden Administration.
Khalilzad met with Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, in Kabul on Monday and discussed the peace process.
Khalilzad “will resume discussions on the way ahead with the Afghan leaders, Taliban representatives and regional countries whose interests are best served by the achievement of a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” the State Department said on Sunday.
The Trump Administration reduced the number of American troops in the country from about 14,000 to 8,600. All US troops are slated to leave Afghan soil by mid-2021.
Still, “there was a rise in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September,” according to a report released on February 23 by the United Mission Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from mass suicide attacks by anti-government elements in populated areas, as well as a drop in casualties attributed to US-led international forces, the report further said.
Anti-government elements bore responsibility for about 62% of civilian casualties, while pro-government forces were responsible for about 25% of the casualties. About 13% of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents, according to the document.
The Taliban was responsible for 45% of casualties, the report said.
The Taliban, however, categorically rejected the report for holding it responsible for the increase in violence.
Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson, said in a press release, “It is a faulty report. At UNAMA’s request, we had provided them with precise information, but it was not included in the report,” Mujahid claimed.
Scott Worden, director of Afghanistan and Central Asia Programs at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, told The Media Line in an exclusive interview that “the Biden Administration is rapidly reviewing the Taliban agreement to see whether all of the conditions have been met to withdraw troops by May 1.
“With high violence levels, no agreement on an agenda for talks, and no public break with al-Qaida, it is unlikely that the Taliban have met the conditions in the agreement,” Worden added.
“If the US troop withdrawal is delayed, it would be [in an effort] to accelerate the intra-Afghan peace negotiations in Doha and provide pressure on the Taliban to negotiate in good faith rather than try to avoid compromise and fight with more intensity after US troops are gone,” he continued.
“If the US and other NATO troops were to leave without a framework for a peace process or a ceasefire, it is likely that a more violent civil war would occur between the Taliban and the Afghan government before peace talks resume,” Worden said.
Michael Kugelman, an Afghan expert and the deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told The Media Line, “It appears increasingly likely that the Biden Administration will keep troops in Afghanistan beyond May 1.
“The impacts of such a move will be greater − and more dangerous − if the US does this without getting an agreement with the Taliban to extend the deadline,” he added.
“If the US stays beyond May 1, the Taliban could tear up its agreement with the US and walk out of the peace talks with the Afghan government, and this could be very dangerous and destabilizing,” Kugelman said.
However, “if the US were to pull all its troops by May 1, it would likely lead the Taliban to pick up the violence and capitalize on a battlefield advantage created by the departure of US forces,” he added.
“There are no good options for the Biden Administration. I fear that whatever he [President Joe Biden] does, the violence will increase − and the Afghan people will pay the highest price,” Kugelman said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line that “in the event the Biden Administration decides to remain in Afghanistan in any form, either keeping a small contingent or retaining its intelligence presence, the scenario would be disastrous for the US as it would essentially be inviting attacks on US troops without changing anything on the ground.
“The complete withdrawal of US forces was a key provision of the peace agreement, so the Taliban is adamant about not seeing a single US troop on the ground and would consider Biden’s decision a clear violation of the peace accord,” she said.
“If Biden is to learn from the nearly 20 years of past failures, it should involve targeting the state actors funding the Taliban and deal with the roots of the problem, not just its fruit,” Tsukerman said.
Benjamin Minick, a San Diego-based defense and Middle East expert, told The Media Line, “The current US administration inherits a chaotic mess with no clear solution about Afghanistan. This is intensified by the fact that its apparent policy toward the region is lackadaisical at best.
“The May deadline for withdrawal marks a faint line in the sand. If the US keeps troops on the ground, the Taliban will consider it a violation. If the US withdraws, the Taliban can continue its push into power unchecked,” Minick said.
Azeem Khalid Qureshi, who teaches international relations at COMSATS University in Islamabad, Pakistan, told The Media Line, “The Taliban would not be happy with any revisions in the Doha peace agreement.
“For the Taliban, a reduction in violence was linked with total withdrawal of US-led forces and release of prisoners. Any change in these conditions may halt, hamper or even reverse the Afghan peace process. However, it is on the record that since the peace agreement, not a single US soldier has been killed by them,” he added.
“The Biden Administration will not ignore human rights issues in Afghanistan and will try to maintain at least a minimum [US] presence. On the other side, the polarization within the Afghan political leadership is the main factor preventing further advances in the peace process. In any case, the chance for peace and stability in the war-torn country is not lost,” Qureshi said.