Doha Agreement (2020)

The Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan is a peace agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, at the Sheraton Grand Doha in Doha, Qatar.

The provisions of the deal include the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control, and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The United States agreed to an initial reduction of its force level from 13,000 to 8,600 by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal within 14 months if the Taliban keeps its commitments. The United States also committed to closing five military bases within 135 days, and expressed its intent to end economic sanctions on the Taliban by August 27, 2020.

The deal was supported by China, Russia and Pakistan and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, although it did not involve the government of Afghanistan. India welcomed the pact’s acceptance by the Afghan “government and people”, but cut short of welcoming it.

The resulting intra-Afghan negotiations were scheduled to begin on March 10, 2020 in Oslo, Norway. The composition of the Afghan government negotiating team was not determined, because the results of the 2019 Afghan presidential election were disputed. The deal required the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the start of the talks, in a prisoner exchange for 1,000 government soldiers held by the Taliban. The Afghan government was not a party to the deal, and on March 1 Ghani stated that he would reject the prisoner exchange: “The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners. […] The release of prisoners is not the United States authority, but it is the authority of the government of Afghanistan.” Ghani also stated that any prisoner exchange “cannot be a prerequisite for talks,” but must be a part of the negotiations. On March 2, a Taliban spokesperson stated that they were “fully ready” for the intra-Afghan talks, but that there would be no talks if about 5,000 of their prisoners were not released. He also said that the agreed-upon period of reduction in violence was over and that operations against Afghan government forces could resume. The 2021 Taliban offensive effectively gave the group full control over the country, after Western troops had withdrawn.

The provisions of the deal include the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control, and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The United States agreed to an initial reduction of its force level from 13,000 to 8,600 by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal within 14 months if the Taliban keeps its commitments. The United States also committed to closing five military bases within 135 days, and expressed its intent to end economic sanctions on the Taliban by August 27, 2020.

Despite the peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, insurgent attacks against Afghan security forces were reported to have surged in the country. In the 45 days after the agreement (between March 1 and April 15, 2020), the Taliban conducted more than 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan, which showed an increase of more than 70% as compared to the same period in the previous year. More than 900 Afghan security forces were killed in the period, up from about 520 in the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, because of a significant reduction in the number of offensives and airstrikes by Afghan and U.S. forces against the Taliban due to the agreement, Taliban casualties dropped to 610 in the period down from about 1,660 in the same period a year earlier. The Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said that although the Taliban stopped conducting attacks against the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, the violence was still “unacceptably high” and “not conducive to a diplomatic solution.” He added: “We have continued to do defensive attacks to help defend our partners in the area and we will continue to do that.”

On June 22, 2020, Afghanistan reported its “bloodiest week in 19 years,” during which 291 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 550 others wounded in 422 attacks carried out by the Taliban. At least 42 civilians, including women and children, were also killed and 105 others wounded by the Taliban across 18 provinces. During the week, the Taliban kidnapped 60 civilians in the central province of Daykundi.

On July 1, 2020, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of a National Defense Authorization Act amendment to restrict President Trump’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in January 2021 that the United States would review the peace agreement to withdraw its remaining 2,500 soldiers from Afghanistan by May 2021.

The Taliban resumed offensive operations against the Afghan army and police on March 3, 2020, conducting attacks in Kunduz and Helmand provinces. On March 4, the US conducted airstrikes on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.

The intra-Afghan negotiations did not begin as planned on March 10, 2020. However, on that day Ghani signed a decree ordering the Afghan government to start releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners on March 14 if they agreed to sign pledges guaranteeing they will not return to battle If they do not sign the pledges, the decree will not go into effect. The same day, the U.S. started withdrawing some troops. Despite the fact that the terms of the peace agreement also received unanimous backing from the UN Security Council, sources close to the Taliban, including Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, afterward announced that the group had rejected Ghani’s prisoner swap decree and still insisted on the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners. On March 14, 2020, Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, announced that President Ghani had delayed the release of Taliban prisoners, citing a need to review the list of the prisoners, thus endangering the peace agreement between the U.S. government and Taliban.

On March 27, 2020, the Afghan government announced the formation of a 21-member negotiation team for the peace talks. However, on March 29 the Taliban rejected the team, stating that “we shall only sit for talks with a negotiation team that conforms with our agreements and is constituted in accordance with the laid out principles.” On March 31, 2020, a three-person Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul to discuss the release of prisoners. They are the first Taliban representatives to visit Kabul since 2001. The Afghan government had also previously agreed to hold the talks in Bagram Prison. The same day, however, the Afghan government announced that the Taliban’s refusal to agree to another ceasefire and the Taliban delegation’s refusal to show up at the prison at the scheduled time both resulted in the postponement of the prisoner swap. Following the arrival of the Taliban delegation, a senior Afghan government official told Reuters “the prisoner release might go ahead in a few days if everything goes as planned.”

On March 31, 2020, the UN Security Council urged for all warring parties to declare a ceasefire in order for the peace process to progress further. On April 1, 2020, it was revealed that the both the Taliban and Afghan government did in fact hold face-to-face talks in Kabul the previous day, unlike the previous video conference talks, and that they were overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). However, Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council stated that the only progress made so far was “on technical matters” and Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid afterward stated, “There will be no political talks there.” Outside the talks, tensions between the Afghan government and Taliban also showed when Afghan authorities blamed the Taliban for a April 1, 2020 explosion which killed several children in Helmand. On the second day of negotiations, it was agreed that on April 2, 2020, up to 100 Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for 20 Afghan military personnel.

On April 7, 2020, the Taliban departed from the prisoner swap talks, which Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen described as “fruitless.” Shaheen also stated in a tweet that hours after walking out of the talks, the Taliban’s negotiating team was recalled from Kabul. The Taliban also failed to secure the release of any of the 15 commanders they sought to be released. Arguments over which prisoners to swap also resulted in a delay of the planned prisoner swap. The next day, Faisal maintained that only 100 Taliban prisoners would be released. Faisal later stated that the 100 prisoners, who were incarcerated at Bagram, were released. The Taliban refused to verify these releases, in part due to the fact that the Taliban’s withdrawal from Kabul prevented its “technical team” from making verifications of the prisoner identities. As the Afghan government solely determined which prisoners were released, it also could not be confirmed if any of the prisoners released were on the Taliban’s list of preferred names.

On May 17, 2020, Ghani signed a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah. This deal ended the long-running dispute about the results of the 2019 Afghan presidential elections, and assigned responsibility for peace negotiations to Abdullah.

By August 2020, the Afghan government had released 5,100 prisoners, and the Taliban had released 1,000. However, the Afghan government refused to release 400 prisoners from the list of those the Taliban wanted to be released, because those 400 were accused of serious crimes. President Ghani stated that he did not have the constitutional authority to release these prisoners, so he convened a loya jirga from August 7 to 9 to discuss the issue. The jirga agreed to free the 400 remaining prisoners.

On August 14, 2020, one of the 21 members of Afghanistan’s peace negotiating team, Fawzia Koofi was attacked by gunmen, along with her sister Maryam Koofi, near Kabul. Fawzia Koofi is a prominent human rights activist of Afghanistan, who has been vocal in denouncing the Taliban. She was also a part of the team representing the Afghanistan government in the peace talks with the Taliban.

Taliban officials accused the Afghan government of intentionally postponing the release of 100 Taliban detainees in order to hamper intra-Afghan negotiations. The Afghan government denied the claims, insisting that all Taliban prisoners had been freed. By September 2020, the Afghan government had freed about 5,000 Taliban prisoners under request from the Trump administration. A government mediation team remained on standby to travel to Doha for talks with the Taliban, but delays were persistent. Ultimately, Western troops withdrew with no agreement having been reached, and in August 2021 the Taliban rapidly took control of the country by force.

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