The article is written by Ansruta Debnath, a law student of National Law University Odisha. This article talks about the provisions of the Doha Agreement of 2020, its need, and its implications.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction

Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan or the Doha Agreement was signed in Doha, Qatar between the Taliban and the United States of America on February 29, 2020. The nations reached an agreement after almost twenty years of war after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This article outlines the historical forces that led to the invasion, the growing need for an agreement, the result and the present situation of Afghanistan. 

Historical background of and need for the Doha Agreement 

9/11

The entire series of events culminating in the Doha Agreement started when on the morning of September 11, 2001, four coordinated terrorist attacks took place on American soil. Four planes were hijacked from three East Coast airports. The first two crashed into the two buildings of the World Trade Centre, the third into the southwest side of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Pentagon. The last one crashed into a countryside farm of Pennsylvania when the passengers tried to take over the plane from the assailants. The damage was the largest to the World Trade Centre, which got destroyed and marked one of the largest terror attacks in history. 

It was soon concretised that al-Qaeda, an Islamic militant terror outfit, and headed by Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. This attack was an enormous tactical success for al-Qaeda, because of its highly televised nature. While most people were largely ignorant of this organization before the attack, it became a household name after.

Evidence gathered by American intelligence soon showed that bin Laden was lodged in Afghanistan. The latter, however, refused to extradite bin Laden to America. Al-Qaeda was headquartered in Afghanistan and had forged a close relationship with that country’s ruling Taliban militia, which subsequently refused U.S. demands to extradite bin Laden and to terminate al-Qaeda activity there. Eventually, America and other allied forces invaded Afghanistan to extract justice and eliminate terrorism. 

Taliban, al-Qaeda and Afghanistan 

The most ironic aspect of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime was that the latter was funded by American intelligence services, especially by the American foreign intelligence service, the Central Intelligence Agency or the CIA. The Taliban was formed by Islamic guerilla fighters and Pashtun tribesmen in the early 1990s when they attempted to resist the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan. Afghanistan and the Soviet Union were bordering nations and the latter, in the name of bolstering the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty, invaded the former to re-establish a one-party communist government in 1979. Previously, the communist revolution of 1978 in Afghanistan established a one-party system but was extremely unpopular and was promptly overthrown. 

Clearly, the American support can be explained because of their campaign against the Soviet Union and communism. Thus, the CIA and their Pakistani counterpart, Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) funded the Taliban until it was able to take over 90 per cent of Afghanistan in 1996. As they solidified territorial authority, the Taliban administered a brutal brand of justice. Taliban law was based on the Pashtuns’ pre-Islamic tribal code and Sharia interpretations influenced by the madrassas ‘Saudi patrons’ austere Wahhabi ideologies. Even while the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice compelled women to wear the head-to-toe burqa, or chadri, prohibited music and television, and imprisoned males whose beards were deemed too short, the dictatorship neglected social services and other vital state duties. 

Taliban also harboured various terror outfits, including al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had its headquarters in Afghanistan. The fact that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were allies first got formally recognized by the world when the United Nations passed Resolution 1267, which established the al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee. This resolution made a link between the two organizations and imposed sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments. Their relationship was further cemented when al-Qaeda operatives assassinated an anti-Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Massoud was the leader of the Northern Alliance which basically embodied the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan. This assassination can be considered to have ensured that bin Laden would receive asylum in Afghanistan and protection from the Taliban after the 9/11 attack.

Invasion by the U.S. 

The American president during the 9/11 attacks was President George W. Bush. He spearheaded the movement against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and accordingly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) invoked Article 5, empowering its members to respond collectively in self-defence. For the first time in its history, the U.S. and allied military forces launched an operation, called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ against terrorism in Afghanistan. Thousands of militants were killed or captured in a matter of months, and Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders were forced into hiding. They mainly sought refuge in Pakistan. 

Following the fall of Kabul in November 2001, the United Nations invited various Afghan factions to a summit in Bonn, Germany, including the Northern Alliance. The groups signed the Bonn Agreement on December 5, 2001, which was backed by UN Security Council Resolution 1383. The accord, which was purportedly struck with significant Iranian diplomatic assistance due to Iran’s support for the Northern Alliance side, installed Hamid Karzai as interim administration head and established an international peacekeeping force to keep Kabul safe. On December 20, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1386, which established the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. By December 9, 2001, the Taliban completely collapsed. 

The long war and need for the Doha Agreement 

With the initial victory and installation of an interim government in Afghanistan, by 2002, America diverted its military resources to its war in Iraq. However, huge amounts of investment were made for “reconstructing” Afghanistan. In May of 2003, the U.S. Government announced that the time for “major combat” was over and that there will now be “stabilisation, stability and reconstruction”. But this objective got severely derailed when in 2004, bin Laden, who had been in hiding, resurfaced and the Taliban insurgency ensued. In a videotaped message, bin Laden was seen to taunt the Bush administration while taking responsibility for 9/11.

President Barack Obama authorized a boost in US force deployment after taking office in 2009, with the goal of achieving a decisive victory over the insurgency. He also announced that the drawdown of personnel would begin in 2011 and that Afghan security forces would take over all combat activities by 2014. In 2011, bin Laden got killed by the U.S. military through a raid of his Pakistan compound. This, on the other hand, merely fueled the Taliban insurgency and exposed the Afghan army’s and police forces’ inadequacies in terms of numbers, training, and equipment to deal with the post-2014 situation.

The U.S. declared in 2014 that the majority of its troops would be leaving, but that a few thousand would remain to “advise, train, and assist” Afghan security forces as part of “Operation Resolute Support”. Yet efforts for withdrawal failed because of the Taliban insurgency and lack of a stable government in Afghanistan. 

The election of Donald Trump as president of America brought a new shift in U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. By 2017, the Taliban had become extremely strong and the American military described the war as a stalemate. Suicide bombings had increased enormously and the Taliban had gained control over almost a third of the country. With complete eradication of the Taliban extremely improbable and constant drain of American resources in Afghanistan, the need to chalk out agreements between the involved parties was greatly felt. From 2018, efforts for negotiation were started, all of which culminated in the Doha Agreement of 2020. 

Main provisions in the Doha Agreement and their implications

Involved parties

The Doha Agreement was between the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the  Taliban” and the United States of America. Scholars have criticised the fact that the Afghanistan government was not made part of the negotiation process. The agreement did not include the government but asked for an Intra-Afgan dialogue in the future.

Four main parts of the Doha Agreement

The agreement had four main parts-

  1. Guarantees and enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies. 
  2. Guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, and announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
  3. After the announcement of guarantees for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces and timeline in the presence of international witnesses, and guarantees and the announcement in the presence of international witnesses that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United States and its allies, the Islamic Emirate of  Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the  Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides.  
  4. A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan. 

Implications of the Doha Agreement 

The first part basically implied that the Taliban, if given power, could not continue to support terrorist outfits. The agreement asked the Taliban to send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan. Further, the Taliban was not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies. The Taliban was to actively prevent and eradicate such organizations and prevent all those people from obtaining visas, passports and other legal documents.

new legal draft

Another major takeaway from the agreement was the withdrawal and removal of American and America-backed military troops from Afghanistan. In 135 days, the U.S. said they would reduce its force to 8,600 troops, and NATO or coalition troop numbers will be reduced correspondingly and simultaneously. All military personnel would be gone in 14 months, including “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (which may be construed as “intelligence” personnel).

Further, the U.S. and Taliban also committed to the release of political and combat prisoners of either side in a phased manner but within three months along with the progress of the intra-Afghan negotiations. The U.S. also committed to start diplomatic engagements with other bodies for the removal of sanctions from Afghanistan and the Taliban as and when the intra-Afghan negotiations started. Lastly, the  United  States and its allies promised to refrain from the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of  Afghanistan or intervening in its domestic affairs. 

The US-Taliban agreement did not call for an immediate cease-fire, and the Taliban fighters carried out scores of attacks on Afghan security forces in the days after its conclusion. In the southern region of Helmand, U.S. forces retaliated with airstrikes. The provision for a cease-fire was to be an “agenda” during the intra-Afghan talk and that it would be enforced at the end of those talks.

Negotiation between Taliban and the Afghan government

The aim of the Doha Agreement was to facilitate conversation between the Ghani government and Taliban so that a power-sharing agreement between both could be decided and implemented in Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of war, representatives from the Taliban, the Afghan government, and civil society gathered for the first time in Doha. Direct talks resumed when the Afghan government completed the release of the five thousand Taliban captives, which had been delayed for months. Both sides underlined their desire to bring peace to Afghanistan and develop a framework for Afghan society following the withdrawal of US forces during the opening statements. The government’s main demand was for a cease-fire, while the Taliban restated their demand for the country to be governed according to Islamic principles. However, various problems from both sides delayed further talks which eventually led to their failure.

Taliban takes over Afghanistan by force : who is to blame

The complete withdrawal of troops was to be announced by September 11, 2021, by newly elected President, Joe Biden. It was also stated that troops would be withdrawn regardless of the progress made in the intra-Afghan dialogue. Simultaneously, the Taliban stated that it would not attend “any conference” on Afghanistan’s future until all foreign soldiers had left the country. However, all promises of talks went down the drain when on August 15, 2021, Taliban forces stormed Kabul, took over the government of Afghanistan by force and established an Islamic government. The Ghani government thus completely collapsed. While the Doha Agreement allowed for the withdrawal of troops, the aim of a shared government was thus not fulfilled.

This hostile takeover can be attributed to certain factors. For starters, the Afghan forces were no match to the Taliban ones. Although the U.S. attempted to train the forces for the last twenty years, they were still unable to protect the capital. Further, the Afghan government was itself extremely unstable due to the massive amounts of corruption within it. The U.S. also diverted its resources to Iraq after invading Afghanistan too soon, instead of consolidating efforts on completely eradicating the Taliban. The sudden withdrawal of troops without ensuring that intra-Afgan negotiations were successful was also a big mistake, especially since the U.S. government was continuously advised against it. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had warned that withdrawing troops too early could allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists and the Islamic State to rebuild its caliphate. 

Afghanistan post Doha Agreement 

The economy of Afghanistan is now collapsing and hunger and poverty are at an all-time high. Thus, all the resources and investment that had been poured into Afghanistan by the U.S. and other countries like India are at extreme risk of degenerating. Because the Taliban took over the country by force, they have also not been recognized by other nations as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Fears of the Taliban reinstating the system of government that was followed by them before 9/11 are not unfounded. The Taliban, while taking over, had declared that they would establish an Islamic State. This State, if the 1990s are any indicator to go by, included various human rights violations, a brutal system of punishment and no rights for women. In the present scenario, although the Taliban government has promised that they would form a more inclusive government, in reality, many conservative leaders have regained top ministry positions and hundreds of women have lost their jobs because of new restrictions on their movement. 

Conclusion 

The American government had invaded Afghanistan with the aim to eradicate terrorist organizations and remove the Taliban government. While the first objective was somewhat fulfilled, because the Taliban has returned as the sole government, there is no guarantee that they would not provide a haven to terrorists. During the signing of the Doha Agreement, the Taliban had been made to agree that they would not harbour fugitives in exchange for the release of prisoners, withdrawal of troops and a shared government that would implement checks and balances. But, without any counter-balance, the Taliban can in essence do whatever they deem fit. However, they have also been blacklisted by most countries and this will prove to be difficult, especially as they aim to build back from a broken and war-torn nation. Thus, the Taliban at some point in time will be forced to cooperate. 

References

  1. Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States and the United States: pdf
  2. Reading US-Taliban pact | Explained News, The Indian Express
  3. September 11 attacks – The attacks | Britannica
  4. The Taliban in Afghanistan.
  5. The US War in Afghanistan | Council on Foreign Relations
  6. Intra-Afghan Dialogue and the Road Ahead – The Geopolitics

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