Doha talks: Deadlock ends as Afghan government, Taliban set to discuss agenda

In a major breakthrough, the Taliban and the Afghan government on Wednesday evening jointly announced a three-page agreement on a procedural framework to start the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, Qatar, thus ending an almost three-month-long deadlock in the negotiations

Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar Dec 03, 2020
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In a major breakthrough, the Taliban and the Afghan government on Wednesday evening jointly announced a three-page agreement on a procedural framework to start the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, Qatar, thus ending an almost three-month-long deadlock in the negotiations.

The Taliban’s Doha office spokesperson Dr. Muhammad Naeem and Afghan negotiation team member Nader Nadery both tweeted, almost at the same time, the same message, “The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalized and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda.”


The announcement on the agreement, which was finalized on November 15, was withheld for days as the Afghan presidential palace said there were some differences over the preamble of the agreement.

“The current negotiations of both negotiation teams shows that there is [a] willingness among Afghans to reach a sustainable peace and both sides are committed to continue their sincere efforts to reach a sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” a statement released by both parties said.

Moreover, for the first time, two negotiation teams met and formed a joint working committee to “prepare the draft topics for the agenda.”

Welcoming the breakthrough, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad congratulated both sides and said the development demonstrates that Afghan parties can “agree on tough issues.”

“People of Afghanistan now expect rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire. We understand their desire and we support them,” tweeted Khalilzad while extending his cooperation on serious efforts to reduce violence in Afghanistan.

Both, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chief negotiator Dr. Abdullah Abdullah welcomed the progress. President Ghani called it an “important step forward towards beginning the negotiations on main issues,” including a permanent ceasefire.

The development holds significance as for the first time the two Afghan sides - who had long questioned the legitimacy of each other - signed an agreement and will move forward to discuss even greater contentious issues concerning the future political structure of the war-torn Afghan state.

South Asia Monitor interviewed Barnett Rubin, a leading American expert on Afghanistan and South Asia, through Twitter for his comments on the development. 

“It is a result of hard work by all, mediation by Qatar, and external pressure on all parties,” he said.

He also pointed out a potential change in incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s approach saying, “The Biden administration will not rip up agreements as Trump did. It will be a predictable and steady partner for allies and adversaries alike.”

Rubin had worked as an advisor in the State Department during former US President Barack Obama’s administration. In 2009, it was Rubin who first initiated secret contacts with the Taliban through a contact in the Saudi Intelligence agency, GID.

On being asked if the transitional phase in the US administration affected the momentum of the Doha talks, he denied and said, “Ghani wanted to wait and see. But he might have delayed in any case.”  

On February 29 this year, the US signed the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan with the Taliban which finally paved the way for intra-Afghan negotiation, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in the exchange for the Taliban’s counterterrorism assurances.

Under the US-Taliban deal, all foreign forces are required to leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.     

Since September 12, the contact groups from the Taliban and the Afghan government negotiation teams had been engaged in the discussion to finalize the procedural framework required for starting the broader intra-Afghan negotiations. But they had stuck over key two contentious issues: the use of Hanafi Islamic jurisprudence and consideration of the US-Taliban deal as the basis of intra-Afghan talks.

While the recent breakthrough is an important step forward in the Afghan Peace Process, experts believe the reduction of violence remains the immediate key challenge for Afghan parties. The recent quarterly report released by SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction), the US government's leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, indicated an increase of 43 percent in civilian casualties from the last quarter in Afghanistan.  

(The writer is a research intern at SAM. He can be contacted at snbhatnagar296@gmail.com)