The current status of the Afghan Peace Process
The current Afghan Peace Process stems from the repeated efforts to end the US stalemate against Afghan insurgents (in this case the Taliban and their allies hosted in Pakistan) as a result of the war on terror. The most recent negotiation between the US and the Taliban started in 2017 and was formalized in 2018. The Taliban and the US government signed the Doha Agreement on 29 February 2020 and simultaneously signed a Joint Declaration between the governments of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States. The agreements would set the basis for the intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the hope to reach a political settlement and end four decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
The intra-Afghan negotiations commenced on 12 September 2020 in Doha. The initial phase of the negotiations lasted 85 days and focused on setting the agenda. The reason for the delay in starting the intra-Afghan negotiations was the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government.
While setting up the agenda, the negotiations were met with two major obstacles: first, the insistence of the Taliban on the singular religious jurisprudence that would ignore other communities in the Afghan society that are not following the same “fiqh” (religious jurisprudence). The second was the Taliban's insistence on the Doha agreement to serve as the foundations of the intra-Afghan talks which was not acceptable to the Afghan government. Once the agenda of talks was finalized, both negotiation teams took a break: the Afghan government delegation returned to Kabul and the Taliban delegation returned to Pakistan. The time for recess was also viewed as an opportunity for consultation and observation of the new US administration’s influence on the direction of talks.
Upon return to Doha in January 2021, sources from the Afghan government confirmed that the Taliban had become more reluctant to negotiate and disregarded the pre-recess agreed agenda.
As of now, the intra-Afghan talks are halted, on 7 March 2021, the US Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken in a leaked letter to the Afghan President has asked for 90 days reduction in violence, a transitional government formed and an UN-led peace conference in Turkey attended by foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the US. The decision regarding the draw-down of the US troops due in May 2021 is not yet finalized as per the letter. While the Doha agreement ended the violence against the US troops, however, for the Afghan civilians and armed forces, 2020 has been the deadliest. Attempts to obtain a ceasefire and establish trust in the peace process have failed. Farahnaz Forotan, a journalist and women’s rights activist promoting the My Redline campaign says, “that the current peace process has failed because bloodshed and violence have peaked while talks on real issues have not even started. Target killing of women activists and Afghans is to spread terror and mute the Afghans.” She adds, “the worsening security situation, yet again makes Afghan women the continued victims of the Afghan war, they have to lock themselves in the house, leave their jobs and education, silence their voices and protect their families. We are in midst of an ugly war with no peace prospect” (interview by the author).