This week, the Biden administration put forward a power-sharing arrangement between the government in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the Taliban, the details of which were leaked by TOLONews.
President Joe Biden’s eight-page peace plan includes a ceasefire and a UN-sponsored conference that also brings in Afghanistan’s neighbors — Turkey, Russia, Iran and Pakistan — to discuss forming an inclusive government that would operate under a new constitution.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also sent a related letter this week to the Afghan president, underscoring a strategy of “high-level diplomacy” that represents a shift from work that began under the Trump administration.
The Afghan government didn’t receive the plan with open arms, as some fear that they will be abandoned by their US allies. But some analysts say the Biden plan could help breathe new life into the peace process.
Fawzia Koofi, one of four women in negotiations on behalf of the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar, said her team is reviewing the US proposal. She said the Taliban is doing the same.
The Taliban didn’t respond to a request for an interview with The World.
“I think [the proposal] will be used. Some parts of it … most of it, actually. But I think they [the Taliban] will come up with their own kind of narrative of the political participation. But we’ll have to wait for them.”
“I think [the proposal] will be used,” Koofi said. “Some parts of it … most of it, actually. But I think they [the Taliban] will come up with their own kind of narrative of the political participation. But we’ll have to wait for them.”
For about six months, Koofi has been meeting on and off with Taliban leaders. The negotiations Koofi is part of could end the bloodshed. But reaching an agreement with the enemy after so many years of war, she said, has not been easy, especially as violence in the country has escalated recently.
The number of assassinations in the country in 2020 rose by 169% compared to the previous year, according to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. Journalists, judges, government officials, security forces and their relatives have come under attack. Some of those attacks have been claimed by ISIS, but many believe the Taliban is responsible. Others have gone unclaimed.
“It has been difficult because I have my family, especially my daughters back home,” she said from Doha. “Personally, it’s very difficult for me to wake up every morning and open my phone. I’m in fear of hearing a bad message. I usually don’t open my phone.”
A tough spot
The peace process, which began under former President Donald Trump, took nine rounds of negotiations between the US and the Taliban to reach a deal. The Afghan government was not involved in those talks.
As part of that 2020 agreement, the US promised to withdraw its troops in Afghanistan by May 1 of this year — and the Taliban committed to holding peace talks with the Afghan government. But that was more than a year ago, and the talks haven’t made much progress since then.
Now, the US is in a tough spot, said Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group.
“So, you have the Biden team scrambling, it seems, to come up with any possible solution or major breakthrough and progress that might remove it from the dilemma of deciding whether it needs to stay or go by May.”
“So, you have the Biden team scrambling, it seems, to come up with any possible solution or major breakthrough and progress that might remove it from the dilemma of deciding whether it needs to stay or go by May,” he said.
Afghans have been through a similar scenario in recent history.
In late 2001, just two months after the US-led invasion brought down the Taliban, the international community came together in Bonn, Germany, to set a path for a new government in Afghanistan.
That was what brought about the Afghan government we know today, said Watkins, with the International Crisis Group.
One flaw with the Bonn agreement, he said, was that the Taliban was not included. There was no appetite from the US and other negotiating members to include them so shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
This time, Watkins said, they are at the negotiating table, but there is another problem.
“In 2001, there was a total power vacuum. There is no such void today. There is still an Afghan government.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in response to Biden’s plan that he will only accept changes to the government if there is a fair election first. Amrullah Saleh, first vice president of Afghanistan, said this week that his government won’t negotiate the country’s current constitution.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that his country is getting ready to host peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives.
The need for inclusiveness
Analyst Tabish Forugh, based in New York, said it could turn out to be a game-changer.
“Bringing the UN and bringing the regional players like Turkey in means that there is more ... credibility and more diplomacy into the initiative that is going to happen soon.”
“Bringing the UN and bringing the regional players like Turkey in means that there is more ... credibility and more diplomacy into the initiative that is going to happen soon,” he explained.
Forugh added that given the slow progress of the talks between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives, it is a good time to try a new approach.
But he’s concerned about the voices of the Afghan people getting lost in these talks.
“If there is any peace to be materialized, that should be inclusive of the voices of the Afghan people. So far, it has been missing,” he said.
The voices of women and minorities, especially, have been sidelined by the Taliban in the past, he said.
Koofi said that she and other women on the negotiating team are working on it: “We have been part of all the debates, and in fact, we initiate some of the debates and in that sense, I think we try to normalize women’s presence with the Taliban because this is something they should get used to.”