Approximately twenty years after the US expelled the Taliban regime from leadership in Afghanistan, the first direct peace dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban commenced in Doha, Qatari Capital City, in September 2020. The NATO, Afghan government, and Taliban forces have engaged in deadly battles that have contributed to record high casualties for both soldiers and civilians (Alqashouti, 2021). Qatar has been at the forefront of peace mediation between the Taliban and international forces. The US committed to withdrawing its troops from Kabul by May 2021 for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban (Alqashouti, 2021). It would also open a peace agreement dialogue between the Taliban, the US, Afghan authorities, and other political stakeholders. This essay details the history of the Afghan peace process and analyzes the role of Qatar in the process.
History of the Afghan Peace Process
The Afghan peace process consisted of negotiations and proposals that attempted to end the battle in Afghanistan. The Afghan war started in 2001 and ended with the withdrawal of American and allied forces from Afghanistan in 2021. The retreat of American and Allied troops from Kabul on September 11, 2021, contributed to the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Although numerous peace negotiation attempts have been made since the war started, peace movements and negotiations intensified in 2018 following dialogue between the Taliban, the insurgent group against American troops and the Afghan government, and the United States (Idrees et al., 2019). The American forces had stayed long in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan government in combating the Taliban. Apart from the US, other major powers contributed to the peace process, including Qatar, Russia, Pakistan, India, China, and NATO member countries. However, the state of Qatar is accredited for the most crucial role in Afghan peace negotiations (Sarwar and Siraj, 2021). Although these countries committed to the Afghan peace process, the Afghan Peace Groups (People’s Peace Movement) considered global and regional powers the perpetrators of continued war.
Two peace treaties were signed in the process of Afghan peace negotiations. The first treaty was signed between the Hezb-e Islamic Gulbuddin militia group and the Afghan government on September 22, 2016, and the second treaty between the Taliban and the US government on February 29, 2020 (Miller and Verhoeven, 2020). The second treaty called for the removal of American and allied forces troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, provided the Taliban kept to the terms of agreement and de-escalation of terror. However, insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces increased after the agreement between the Taliban and the US.
Involvement of Qatar in Afgan Peace Process
In September 2020, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan state commenced in Qatar, but there was a surge in civilian death. Approximately 800 civilians died, and more than 1600 were wounded between May and June 2021(Alqashouti, 2021). It was the highest number of civilian death since 2009 when the United Nations started documenting casualties in Afghanistan. The Taliban ousted the Afghan government and annexed Kabul days after the US forces withdrew. Although the Afghan government started negotiations and peace talk with the Taliban afterward, it unconditionally surrendered the nation to the Taliban (Khan and Khan, 2019). The Taliban called for a peaceful handover of power, and the Afghan government showed interest in abiding by the calls. However, they would only abide by the condition to transfer power to a transitional government against the Taliban’s will of complete power handover.
Currently, most countries are scrambling to apply influence on Afghanistan following the return of the Taliban. However, Arab nations such as Qatar and Turkey see the opportunity to facilitate and meditate for peace in the region. Qatar capitalizes on its recent access and healthy relations with the Taliban to help peace negotiations (Yahaya, 2020). The Qatari government has been at the forefront of the Afghan peace negotiations. The country has hosted multiple Intra-Afghan peace talks in its capital city, Doha, including the Taliban talks with the US that contributed to the February 29 landmark agreement. This agreement was directed towards a ceasefire of approximately 20 years-old Afghan war, considered the United States’ longest war (Alqashouti, 2021). The pact of the February 29 landmark demanded the US, Taliban, and the Afghan government to commence negotiation and dialogue to cease decades of war and hostility. It included freeing of 5000 Taliban prisoners held in different Afghan government facilities in exchange for 1000 Afghan security officers under the Taliban custody. The Qatari government proposed hosting these intra-Afghan talks in Doha since it is the Gulf state’s capital, the custodian of the Taliban’s political office.
The leaders of the small gas-rich nation of Qatar have been an excellent example to those states trying to exit. Furthermore, no significant evacuations happen in Afghanistan without involving Qatar (Junaid and Mustafa, 2021). The Taliban and Afghanistan are a substantial victory for Qatar, not because of its involvement in the mediation with the Taliban, but because of its role for the western countries involved in the peace process. Qatar represents the western countries in the negotiation for peace in the Middle East, a role that comes with many political and economic benefits (Hussain, 2019). Additionally, Qatar has capitalized on its excellent relations with most Gulf countries and its position as a trusted mediator as a tool to drive for peace in the Middle East. However, although Qatar is considered a trusted mediator in the Afghan peace process, bridging a trail to the Taliban is risky to the future of the Gulf (Farr, 2020). The closeness of Qatar to the region’s Islamic movement causes tension with nations like United Arabs Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, who consider the Taliban an existential threat. Qatar’s role in the Afghan peace process also comes with serious reputational risks. As Doha hopes its role as a mediator will end the conflict in the Gulf, its brokered negotiations between competing factions and major conflicts in the Middle East have attracted rivalry with some gulf nations. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arabs Emirates accused Qatar of siding with Islamists and cut ties in 2017 (Behuria et al., 2019). Although the ties were restored, they affected the country politically and economically within the Gulf region.
In conclusion, although the situation is uncertain for the Afghan people, Qatar still maintains its role as a mediator of peace. It has had an effective role in the Afgan peace process by hosting and mediating the peace talks. Additionally, Qatar is among the countries still representing the Western countries in talks with the Taliban. Qatar is considered a state with manifest destiny due to its unique role within the Muslim world. The country’s role in the Middle East peace talks has earned it influence and recognition as a leading power regionally and internationally. However, the nation may not want to find itself in a position where its role as a mediator for peace drives it to establish the brutal sharia regime. Supporting a sustainable and inclusive peace process in Afghanistan and the Gulf region is the main objective of the State of Qatar.
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