A stalemate on Doha Accord and Taliban’s diplomatic outreach?

Durdana Najam

Like its predecessors, Joe Biden’s team is reviewing the deals, agreements and contracts the previous government had made. It is a common exercise to understand the issues from the insight that every new administration brings to fulfil its agenda for another five years. One of the crucial agreements is the US-Taliban peace deal, or the Doha Accord, moving in full swing until Trump’s final days in office.
Of the varying interpretations lent to the review decision, one that has sent anxiety in the ranks and file of the Taliban is the clamour against the full US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Doha Accord will cease to mature if all foreign forces are not withdrawn from Afghanistan. It is a very significant clause.
Moreover, the Taliban will never compromise on it. The argument against the full US withdrawal from Afghanistan stems from the assessment that the Taliban would turn Afghanistan into an Islamic fiefdom, which may force the Afghans to surrender their free will to religion resulting in a blow to the democratic values of liberty, equality and justice.
How far this assumption is valid cannot be assured unless the Taliban are in power. However, at this junction, the question that should be bothering the think tanks and intelligentsia in the US should be: are the Taliban dispensable? Before sitting down with the Taliban on disusing the Doha Accord, the Trump administration had also tried to bypass the former in the peace deal. It did not happen then, and the probability of it not happening this time is also as high. Why would the US retest the waters when it knows the result would be similar? In response to the US scepticism and to exhibit its diplomatic influence, the Taliban made some strategic visits to Turkmenistan, Iran, Russia and Pakistan.
One purpose of the visits was to have allies pressurising the US to fulfil its commitment to the peace deal. Another purpose could be to demonstrate that the international community is invested in seeing the reigns of Afghanistan’s power returning to its heir, the Afghans. The delegation, led by Taliban Deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was received by their top leadership in all the countries. Issues from foreign affairs to security and defence were discussed to give assurance to the neighbouring countries that once in power the Taliban-led government would contribute to regional stability emanating from a secure and stable Afghanistan. For instance, during its visit to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, the overriding issues under discussion were constructing the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) power line, and further connecting Afghanistan to Turkmenistan by railway.
While talking about the security of these projects, Taliban delegation member Mohammad Suhail Shaheen said, “Without a doubt, the early start on the construction of projects such as TAPI, TAP, and a railroad from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan will contribute to the achievement of peace and economic development in Afghanistan.” He added that the Taliban would ensure the “protection of all national projects implemented in our country” that are done to benefit the Afghan people.
He further added: “We declare our full support for the realisation and security of the TAPI project and other infrastructure projects in our country.” In Russia, the Taliban delegation rejected the US allegation about the bounties Russia has offered to the Taliban for killing American soldiers. The Taliban termed it “an absolute lie”. The visit aimed to seek Russia’s support to realise the Doha accord and lift the UN sanctions on the Taliban leaders.
Moscow that retreated from Afghanistan in 1989 after a 10-year-long war has made a diplomatic comeback as a power broker mediating peace between feuding factions. It also hosted talks between various Afghan factions in 2019. The Taliban spent a full one week in Iran exposing it to a rant from those still holding on to the memory of the seven Iranian diplomats and journalist killed in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif in 1998. The Taliban were accused of the killing, which it has denied to date. The Iranian foreign ministry defended its position by stating “the Taliban is part of today’s reality of Afghanistan”.
Tehran supported the Taliban’s stance on the continuation of the Afghan peace agreement according to the Doha Accord. The Taliban delegation to Pakistan met the top political leadership that included the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff. Though a usual meeting pattern, what lent importance to the optic was the visit’s timing – the US insistence on reviewing the Doha Accord and its reservation on seeing the Taliban getting a substantial share in the future government.
If Pakistan’s entire leadership is standing behind the Taliban, it shows that Pakistan’s intervention in the Doha Accord derives strength from the prospect of the Taliban getting significant stakes in Afghanistan’s future government. It also suggests that the Taliban’s insistence on the complete withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan matches Pakistan’s expectation, irrespective of who assumes power in the White House.
Geo-politics has done wonders in the Afghanistan case. South Asian politics have new actors in the play. With multilateralism as the new international order, the clout that the US once enjoyed has diluted. It further weakened with the latest insurrection episode on the Capitol Hill – a spectacle of complete disenchantment with the so-called democratic values failing the people of the world’s largest democracy.
Unless the US wants to further deteriorate the situation in Afghanistan, because the ravaging civil war will not stop until the US-Taliban peace deal or the Doha Accord is implemented in its full spirit, the Doha Accord review should only be an exercise to gain new insight. If these visits have proved anything, it is that the Taliban are indispensable.-Courtesy: The Express Tribune

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