The Taliban in a statement on the first anniversary of the Doha agreement on Sunday said that it has done its part in the deal and that it is a practical way towards peace.
The Taliban said that any attempt to seek an alternative for the agreement will end to failure in peace efforts.
The Taliban urged the US to live up to its commitments to the Doha agreement. The Taliban once again demanded the release of their remaining prisoners and the removal of their names from the UN blacklist and said it would speed up intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
The Taliban said that they have fulfilled their commitments to the agreement, blaming "the other side" for violating the agreement and said the US has continued to bombings and operations.
On Feb. 29, 2020, US and Taliban representatives gathered in Doha, Qatar, to sign an agreement that would allow for the withdrawal of American troops in exchange for concessions by the group.
The concessions included opening peace talks with the government in Kabul and broken tie with terrorist groups like al-Qaida from using the country to launch attacks on America and its allies.
The US President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal with the Taliban as policymakers calling for a renegotiation of the agreement ahead of a May 1 deadline to pull all troops from the country.
Some 2,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan at about a dozen bases, alongside about 10,000 NATO troops.
Violence Remains High in Afghanistan
A week ago, the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that an end to the US military involvement in Afghanistan hinges on a reduction in Taliban attacks.
“The violence must decrease now,” he told reporters in his first press conference as Pentagon chief.
Austin said there would be no “hasty” withdrawal.
“We want to do this methodically and deliberately,” he said as quoted by The Hill.
Austin said that he is “mindful” of the looming May deadline but indicated that it would not be reached as long as the Taliban are not meeting commitments.
This comes a day after NATO Defense Ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Brussels with no final decision taken about troops pullout from Afghanistan.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of the two NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday said that the military alliance will only leave Afghanistan when security conditions on the ground allow it.
Stoltenberg said that at this stage, the alliance has not made a final decision about a troop presence in Afghanistan.
President Biden while addressing the Munich Security Conference has said that the US will work together with its allies in Europe and that his administration is fully committed to working with NATO allies on the way forward in Afghanistan.
There was a rise in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September, according to a report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office said five day ago.
The overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 of 8,820 (3,035 killed and 5,785 inured) fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was 15 per cent down on 2019.
The Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020 documented civilian casualties in the last quarter of the year.
The report said that the "anti-government elements (AGEs) in 2020 caused the majority of civilian casualties (62 percent), totaling 5,459 casualties – 1,885 killed and 3,574 injured with the Taliban responsible for most of these casualties (45 percent of the total) and Daesh responsible for 8 percent."
But the Taliban has rejected the report.
US Senator Jack Reed said he favored seeking an extension of the May 1 deadline for withdrawing troops that President Donald Trump and the Taliban negotiated last year, The New York Times reported.
Reed said the United States should seek an extension of the deadline to give diplomats more time to negotiate an agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“To pull out within several months now is a very challenging and destabilizing effort,” he told reporters on a video conference call organized by George Washington University.
He added his voice to a growing number of national security specialists, including those on a bipartisan, congressionally appointed panel, who argue, in essence, for abandoning the May 1 timetable.
Before this, Michael McCaul, a top US Republican, has said in an interview with CNN that President Biden needs to keep US troops in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from taking over.
“I think Afghanistan can be very important. I hope that the Biden administration I can work with them on this and talk to Secretary Blinken and the national security adviser about leaving a residual force there to protect the homeland and not allow the Taliban to take over their country,” the US congressman said.
A study group appointed by US Congress calls on the Biden administration to slow the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, remove the May 1 exit deadline and instead reduce the number of troops only as security conditions improve in the country.
The report finds that removing international forces by the May 1 deadline set in the US-Taliban peace agreement could lead to a civil war in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Study Group began its Congressionally mandated work in April 2020, just weeks after the US and the Taliban signed Doha agreement on the conditions for a US troop withdrawal that would end US’ long military engagement in Afghanistan.
“We have an interest in an Afghanistan that respects basic human rights. We do not, however, believe that securing these interests requires a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan,” the group said in the report.
The report said that: “An immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result.”
Afghanistan Study Group makes following recommendations for the Afghan peace process: clarify the end state, reinforce the conditionality of a final US troop withdrawal, clarify the US commitment to the current Afghan state, work diplomatically to promote the success of the negotiation process and design an overarching regional diplomatic strategy.
The report has mentioned that a recognition that, in addition to conducting counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan forces, a key objective of the ongoing US military presence is to help create conditions for an acceptable peace agreement.
Close Tie with Al-Qaeda
Amidst doubts in the Taliban’s commitment to cut their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the Taliban last week has asked its members to avoid harboring foreign fighters and not allow them to join their ranks.
“All heads and mujahedeen are directed to avoid arbitrary move to bring in foreign nationals into their ranks or harbor them,” the Taliban said in a statement, a copy of which was seen by TOLOnews on Tuesday.
The group warns its fighters that anyone who makes such an attempt will be removed from their assignments, their group will be dissolved, “and will be referred to the military affairs commission for further punishment.”
The Taliban has been under criticism by Afghan and US officials for keeping their ties with terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda. The Taliban has denied its relations with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
“We believe that the top leadership of al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection,” a UN official, Edmund Fitton-Brown, said earlier this month.
According to the UN monitoring team’s report in January, there are 200 to 500 al-Qaeda fighters across about 11 Afghan provinces.
The Taliban has committed in the Doha agreement to cut their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The group has also vowed to reduce violence. However, Afghan and US officials have said that violence remains “too high” in the country despite the ongoing efforts for peace.
Attention has turned back to Doha and hopes have been renewed that the talks between both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations will resume, especially as--according to members of the Republic side--the Taliban in a recent meeting showed a "good spirit."
This comes after a meeting was held between heads and some members of the negotiating teams in Doha on Monday evening that was focused on the continuation of the negotiations.
No new meeting has been held between the two sides since Monday.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Omar Daudzai, President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for Pakistan, met senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad about the Afghan peace process.
“The Taliban came with a good spirit—we hope that this spirit remains the same—because they expressed a commitment for the talks to continue on a daily basis,” said Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a member of the negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“The emphasis of the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan--as its working agenda-- has been focused on ending the war and agreeing on a ceasefire in order to help the Afghan people obtain a benefit from this process and feel its impacts on their lives,” said Fawzia Koofi, a member of the negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the talks with the Taliban.
The republic’s negotiators expressed hope that an agreement is reached with the Taliban soon about the agenda of the talks.
The Taliban continue to insist on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, but a democratic senator has warned about a hasty pullout.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a press conference m with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar in Moscow on Friday said the Taliban should enter meaningful talks and should reduce violence significantly.
He added that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and that the violence has to stop as soon as possible.
Lavrov said that Moscow was in contact with other countries involved in Afghanistan. He stated that the Taliban should avoid putting new demands in the talks.
Atmar says that his Russian counterpart has agreed that the return of the Taliban’s regime is unacceptable and that the group should resume meaningful talks and reduce violence significantly.
“We welcome Russia’s position. The Taliban shouldn’t be removed from the sanctions list unless they abide by their commitments toward peace,” Atmar said at the event.
On Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani said the international community has kept Afghans away from their fundamental right of peace over the last four decades, reiterating that the people of Afghanistan want permanent and dignified peace.
Addressing a ceremony on Armed Forces Day, Ghani said Afghan security forces have played a prominent role in fighting international terrorism and that they can protect the values the country has achieved over the last 20 years.
Referring to his recent address to the UN Security Council, President Ghani said: “My main sentence was that for the last 40 years, the international community has kept a massive nation away from their fundamental right which is peace and this is unacceptable.”
“We want peace and we want dignified peace and a peace that is ensured by the power of our security and defense forces and with the will of the people. This peace will come,” he said.
Ghani said the violence must end and that there should be no more bloodshed, and no one should remain deprived of education anymore.
He added that Afghans will decide on the next president and the next government.