Taliban and Afghan representatives agreed early this week to a basic, albeit non-binding, roadmap for intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at ending the 18-year war. Since the U.S. resumed direct talks with the Taliban last September, the two sides have focused on the withdrawal of foreign forces and the steps the Taliban will take against terrorists on Afghan soil. Meanwhile, intra-Afghan talks on a political roadmap have yet to get off the ground. After months of seeming stasis, this week’s Doha meeting has injected renewed hope. USIP’s Scott Smith looks at what happened this week, what it means for Afghan women, and the next steps in the peace process.

The Sher Ali Khan girls’ school in Farah province, Afghanistan after a Taliban attack, April 2019. Although peace talks are progressing, violence is also on the rise. (Najim Rahim/The New York Times)
The Sher Ali Khan girls’ school in Farah province, Afghanistan after a Taliban attack, April 2019. Although peace talks are progressing, violence is also on the rise. (Najim Rahim/The New York Times)

After the last effort at intra-Afghan talks in early April failed, was there any progress from the talks in Qatar earlier this week?

The real “progress” is that the meeting happened at all. The attempt to hold a similar meeting between the Taliban and Afghans failed in April when the Afghan delegation couldn’t agree on who should attend and tried to send a delegation of 250 people. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad then asked Ambassador Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to help determine a more manageable but still representative delegation. He was able to select around 50 participants, including six women from the government, political opposition, and civil society.

While those from the government attended in their personal capacity, it was the first time a dialogue between the Taliban and Afghan representatives has taken place in this format. Although there have been previous meetings between Afghan politicians and Taliban representatives in Moscow, this is the first meeting where the Afghan delegation included individuals who are in the Afghan government, and that was clearly within the framework of the peace process spearheaded by Amb. Khalilzad. One of the reasons I think that this delegation was more manageable was that it was comprised of members of the new generation of Afghans—their egos are not as strong as the older generation, but they have a greater stake in the outcome of negotiations.

Another positive outcome was the agreement on a joint statement, which had not been expected. The statement, while nonbonding, called for future meetings in this format and identified a few confidence-building measures such as the release by both sides of elderly prisoners and a cessation of attacks near civilian areas. The meeting has generated a lot of optimism among Afghans. It was already a success for taking place and not breaking down, but the positivity that came out of it should make it easier to believe that a peace deal is possible. At the very least, these talks revived what many feared had become a stalled process.


The talks led to a joint agreement that said both sides would work to assure women’s rights. Has the Taliban indicated a willingness to move away from its traditionally hardline position on women’s issues? 


The Taliban office in Doha has been trying for some time to convince international interlocutors that they have moderated their position on women since their rule in the 1990s. During that period, the Taliban were particularly draconian in their treatment of women, including stoning for alleged adultery and other offenses.

As a part of a series of steps aimed to move toward peace, the Doha statement says the conflict parties will consider “[a]ssuring women’s rights in political, social, economic, educational, and cultural affairs … within the Islamic framework of Islamic values.” (This comes from an unofficial translation of the joint statement released on Twitter by Amb. Khalilzad.) What is meant by “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values” will be the subject of intensive discussion when the intra-Afghan talks begin. The Afghan delegation from Kabul included six women and the Taliban reportedly interacted well with them. But part of the purpose of this delegation was to show how much Afghanistan has changed, especially with regard to women’s empowerment.

It might be that the Taliban would be willing to allow rights accorded to women in more conservative Islamic countries—education, but segregated; employment, but only in certain fields; and so forth—but Afghan women will rightly want far more than that.


There are a number of key issues—the timing of troop withdrawals, future intra-Afghan talks and a cease-fire to halt the recent uptick in violence—that were not addressed. What’s next for negotiations?

What is next is for the U.S. and Taliban to reach an agreement on U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban anti-terrorism guarantees. This is the Taliban pre-condition for beginning talks with Kabul on a cease-fire and a future political order. Both sides say they are very close. A few days ago, Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, said there were no differences between the two sides. The stated U.S. hope is to reach a framework agreement on the way forward by the beginning of February. While this is a tall order, recent events and statements give a little more reason for optimism.

Scott Smith is an advisor on Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

 

Related Publications

Amid a Spike in Violence, Have Afghan Peace Talks Lost Momentum?

Amid a Spike in Violence, Have Afghan Peace Talks Lost Momentum?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

By: Johnny Walsh

After rapid progress in early 2019, the Afghan peace process has seemingly slowed. The U.S. chief negotiator, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said in May that his negotiations with the Taliban were making slow but steady progress, but there has been little headway in starting talks among the various Afghan parties. Meanwhile, violence has ratcheted up, as typically occurs in the spring and summer in Afghanistan. The country’s overdue presidential polls are scheduled for late September, further complicating efforts to achieve peace. Can talks succeed amid the violence and political discord? Will the elections drain momentum from the peace process? USIP’s Johnny Walsh looks at the Afghan peace process ahead of the next round of talks in late June.

Peace Processes

Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security

Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security

Thursday, June 13, 2019

By: Palwasha L. Kakar

Palwasha Kakar, senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies, testified on June 13 at the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues' hearing on "Women in Conflict: Advancing Women's Role in Peace and Security.” Her expert testimony as prepared is presented below.

Gender; Peace Processes

Perspectives on Peace from Taliban Areas of Afghanistan

Perspectives on Peace from Taliban Areas of Afghanistan

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

By: Ashley Jackson

Notably absent from the debate around peace in Afghanistan are the voices of those living in parts of the country that have borne the brunt of the fighting since 2001—particularly those living in areas under Taliban control or influence. This report provides insight into how Afghan men and women in Taliban-influenced areas view the prospects for peace, what requirements would have to be met for local Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, and how views on a political settlement and a future government differ between Taliban fighters and civilians.

Reconciliation

Belquis Ahmadi on the Afghan Peace Process

Belquis Ahmadi on the Afghan Peace Process

Thursday, May 16, 2019

By: Belquis Ahmadi

Reflecting on recent conversations in Doha and Kabul, USIP’s Belquis Ahmadi says that Afghans told her they want peace, but are not willing to sacrifice the hard-won gains of the last 18 years to get there. As U.S.-Taliban talks move forward, the extent of the Taliban’s evolution on issues like women’s rights remains in question. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” says Ahmadi.

Gender; Peace Processes

View All Publications