A group of delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last week approved a “roadmap for peace” during a conference on ending the 18-year civil war. The meeting produced one of the most detailed peace plans yet, but uncertainty remains over the absence of a cease-fire agreement and the Taliban’s commitment to the discussions.
About 70 delegates, including women, civil society members, government officials, and some members of the insurgent group, attended the conference in Doha, Qatar. In a joint statement, both sides committed to setting up an Islamic legal system, defending women’s rights, and ensuring representation for all ethnic groups. The nonbinding statement said all sides will refrain from attacking public institutions and targeting civilians and will release “elderly, incapacitated, and ill prisoners.” They also pledged to avoid inflammatory comments to “not fuel the conflict and revenge.”
German special envoy on Afghanistan Markus Potzel said the meeting was only the first step and told Afghan-based Tolo News that subsequent conferences are expected to happen in Uzbekistan or Europe.
The United States toppled the Taliban’s leadership in 2001 and maintains about 14,000 troops in the country. The Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province continue to carry out attacks on civilians and security forces. Previous efforts to hold talks between the Taliban and Afghan government failed because the Taliban called Afghan government officials “American puppets” and refused to sit down with them.
Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, explained that the delegates attended the latest conference in their personal capacities “in order to circumvent the Taliban’s rejection of direct talks with the Afghan government.”
Despite the progress, the agreement failed to lay out a clear stance on a cease-fire, a major concern for civilians. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 581 civilian deaths from January to March from insurgents, pro-government forces, and airstrikes. Taliban insurgents on Saturday killed three security officials and 10 other people in an attack on a commercial building in the western Baghdad province.
“Too often the Taliban’s words and deeds are contradictory, as the many civilian casualties in attacks that targeted military installations showed,” Ruttig said. “But neither have critics shown any realistic alternative on how to end the 40-year war—which is the most bloody worldwide—without talking and compromising with the Taliban.”
U.S. Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States is hopeful the talks can result in a more detailed framework by Sept. 1, ahead of the Afghan presidential elections slated for Sept. 19. The Taliban and the United States, led by Khalilzad, are also holding talks in Qatar to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops.