A US-Taliban deal that was supposed to kickstart peace talks between the insurgents and the Kabul government is looking flimsier by the day, with fighting raging across Afghanistan and no one sure about what comes next.
The loosely worded, four-page agreement signed February 29 in Doha was meant to set the conditions for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within just 14 months — and end the longest war in US history.
But within days of the ink drying on the deal, blood again was flowing across Afghanistan, with the Taliban striking scores of Afghan military targets and jihadist gunmen killing dozens in a Kabul attack.
US President Donald Trump on Friday even acknowledged that the Taliban could seize power after foreign forces leave — a far cry from the reassuring messaging American officials pushed in the months leading up to the accord.
Taliban Hopeful, But Afghan Talks Seen at Risk
Violence continues with Taliban insisting on prisoner releases#Afghanistan #afghanpeaceagreement #AfghanPeaceDeal #Talibanhttps://t.co/AzZQM1zYyh pic.twitter.com/XwzmLxI3hP
— Antiwar.com (@Antiwarcom) March 9, 2020
The biggest sticking point so far seems to be the deal itself, which is vaguely worded and open to different interpretations.
For instance, the agreement states the Afghan government “will” release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners before Tuesday, when peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents are supposed to start in Oslo.
Trouble is, the Afghan government is not a signatory to the deal, and a joint declaration between President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the US calls only on Kabul to determine the “feasibility” of a mass prisoner release.
Ghani said Saturday his government was willing to free the Taliban prisoners — but only if they do not return to violence.
He did not say if a release was possible before March 10, essentially throwing the talks into limbo.
International Crisis Group analyst Andrew Watkins said the “ambiguous language and at some points outright contradictory language” between the US-Taliban deal and the US-Afghan joint statements has led to confusion.
“The reason we see ambiguity is because it would have been very difficult if not impossible to reach agreement up front,” Watkins said.
And the agreement stipulates only that a ceasefire will be an “item” on the agenda of future talks, highlighting Washington’s failure to extract any promise from the Taliban to reduce violence during the interim.
— Voice of Nations (@VoiceOfNations7) March 9, 2020
“Unfortunately the renewed fighting against the government signals that the Taliban are not interested in a negotiated settlement,” said professor Michael Semple at the Mitchell Institute at Queen’s University Belfast.
Read more: Afghanistan: Is peace really coming?