The weeks leading up to Kabul’s collapse saw a flurry of diplomatic activity by the U.S. and its allies in Qatar aimed at heading off exactly the chaotic scenes in the Afghan capital that have so horrified the world and put Joe Biden’s presidency on the defensive.
Among those efforts was a tantalizing agreement that could have guaranteed calm. Afghan and Taliban negotiators tentatively reached a deal in which all sides would declare a two-week cease-fire in exchange for President Ashraf Ghani’s resignation and the start of talks on setting up a transitional government, according to two people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.
That opportunity, which hasn’t been previously reported, was lost when Ghani fled the country, according to the people. Ghani’s decision to leave Afghanistan — he said he did so to avoid a bloodbath — surprised his negotiating team in Doha, American diplomats and even his chief of staff and other top aides, said the people.
Under the terms of the tentative agreement, the cease-fire would have led the way for former President Hamid Karzai and other current and former officials to broker some sort of power-sharing deal with the militant group ousted from power nearly two decades ago. Karzai has remained in Kabul after the Taliban takeover.
That scuttled agreement in Qatar underscores just how quickly the ground has shifted in Kabul in recent days and how swift and surprising the Taliban takeover has been. With the Taliban now controlling nearly every population center in the country and Afghanistan’s government in a state of collapse, the challenge is finding a way to compel the Taliban to share any power at all.
“For all intents and purposes, the peace talks in Doha are over,” said Anish Goel, senior fellow at New America and a former White House senior director for South Asia under former President Barack Obama. “The Taliban were never negotiating in good faith and there is no reason for them to start now. They have all the power in Afghanistan and clearly don’t want to share it.”
Even the Taliban seemed surprised with their rapid gains, with Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — the militant group’s chief negotiator in Qatar — saying Monday that the swiftness of the Taliban advance was unexpected.
“We shouldn’t embrace arrogance,” Baradar said. “Now is the time when we will be tested on how we serve and secure our people, and ensure their good life and future to the best of our ability.”
The State Department declined immediate comment. A newly established coordination council established by Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The tentative agreement was hammered out between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators who have been meeting in Doha for months as part of efforts to come up with a peaceful transition of power after former President Donald Trump cut a deal with the Taliban for U.S. troops to withdraw by May. Biden extended that deadline to September.
The top U.S. envoy for those talks, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Doha now trying to come up with a new path forward to ensure peace holds in the Afghan capital now that the Taliban have largely seized control. The focus, the people said, is on a smooth and peaceful transition to a new government that includes elements of all Afghan society, not just the Taliban.
But now it’s not clear if any talks will take place.
“The so-called ‘peace talks’ were a sham, and the Taliban were never interested in negotiating a peaceful power-sharing settlement,” said Lisa Curtis, Trump’s former National Security Council senior director for Southeast Asia. “This was largely President Ghani’s fault. However, the way in which the U.S. handled peace talks in Doha also contributed to undermining Ghani.”
–With assistance from Peter Martin.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)