Kabul blames ongoing Taliban violence for NATO move to extend troops’ stay

Special Kabul blames ongoing Taliban violence for NATO move to extend troops’ stay
A study mandated by the US Congress has called for a delay in the pullout in Afghanistan, warning it would effectively hand the Taliban a victory. (AP)
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Updated 17 February 2021

Kabul blames ongoing Taliban violence for NATO move to extend troops’ stay

Kabul blames ongoing Taliban violence for NATO move to extend troops’ stay
  • Insurgent group blamed for undermining crucial intra-Afghan talks in Qatar

KABUL: The Afghan Taliban have failed to reduce violence in the country as part of a historic deal signed with Washington last year, prompting NATO to extend its troops’ presence beyond the stipulated May deadline, a government negotiator said on Tuesday, blaming the group for abandoning the crucial intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha, Qatar.

“I think based on what was in the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban, the latter also needed to deliver in terms of reduction of violence, cutting ties with other networks and ensuring that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists once again,” Fawzia Koofi told Arab News.

Koofi was appointed as an emissary by the Afghan government for the Doha talks with the Taliban, which began in September last year.

She said that the militants “needed to abandon violence so that no excuse would be left for foreign troops to remain in the country.”

As part of the accord signed between the US and the insurgent group in February last year, all foreign troops were required to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of April 2021.

“Even after one year, though, we can see how, unfortunately, it is war that is giving foreign troops reasons to remain in Afghanistan. If war continues and fighting increases, certainly international troops, including NATO, will have enough reason to be in Afghanistan,” Koofi said. She added that if the Taliban were sincere in their demands for foreign troops to withdraw from the country, they would “need to stop fighting and agree to a cease-fire.”

Since assuming power last month, US President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly said it would “review the controversial accord,” which allegedly gives leverage to the Taliban and emboldens the insurgent group to increase its attacks on the Afghan government, which has been pushing for an extension for foreign troops to remain in the country.

On Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that the presence of the alliance’s troops in Afghanistan was “conditions-based” and that they would “not leave before the time is right.”

“Our common goal is clear. Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands. So, our presence is conditions-based,” Stoltenberg said.

Meanwhile, Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, told Arab News that despite national forces conducting anti-Taliban operations, Kabul needed assistance from the international community, including NATO and the US.

“And we expect that they remain in Afghanistan until the complete annihilation of terrorists,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid shared with Arab News an open letter addressed to the American public and written by Mullah Abdul Ghani Bradar, the group’s deputy leader and head of its Qatar office.

In the letter released on Tuesday, Bradar says that the Taliban are committed to the Doha deal and expect the US to do the same.

“Now that a year has passed since the Doha accord, our request is that the American side remains committed in the full implementation of its pledges. We are sure that Afghans…through the intra-Afghan talks can reach an understanding on the establishment of an Islamic system, peace and security.”

In a series of statements in recent weeks, the group reiterated its commitment to the Doha deal, which stipulates that it cut its ties with “terrorist groups” and adhere to a pledge for areas under the Taliban’s control not to be used against any country’s interests, including those of the US.

This is despite its warnings that the onus for the collapse of the Doha deal lies with foreign forces, whom the militants have spared in their attacks since signing the February accord.

Koofi, for her part, said the Taliban had stopped negotiations with Afghan emissaries, awaiting a final decision from Biden’s administration on the deal.

“Since the second round of negotiations, the Taliban have not spared the time to engage in negotiations, and I think this is something we should do because it is our people who suffer,” she said, adding that she hoped the continued presence of foreign troops would not impact the Doha talks.

She further explained that Afghanistan and the interest of its people should be the priority.

“This is an opportunity; we should seize it for the interest of our people, our country. If we continue to consider what the rest of the world thinks about us and what the rest of the world does, then we give enough reasons for the rest of the world to stay engaged in Afghanistan,” she said.

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former government, said that NATO should use its diplomatic muscle with both sides of the hostilities in Afghanistan for a peace settlement to be reached now.

He also questioned the effectiveness of NATO’s presence in the country for the past 20 years, “given that it concedes that Al Qaeda is still active there.”

“On NATO’s military record in Afghanistan, by their own admission, we can safely award a grade of three over 10 on wiping out Al Qaeda and seven over 10 in training Afghan forces. Barely a passing grade,” he told Arab News.

He said the extended presence of NATO in Afghanistan would “help President Ashraf Ghani remain in power,” despite several politicians, government-appointed negotiators and the Taliban insisting on his departure so that an interim government can be formed.

“Foreign forces will remain in Afghanistan until it is ensured that all Afghan sides agree on a political set-up that will guarantee political stability,” Dr. Jafar Mehdawi, a politician and former MP, told Arab News.

He said that an extended presence of foreign troops would mean that the Taliban “would further escalate and broaden their attacks by spring,” when the weather becomes warmer in Afghanistan.

“The focus of the Taliban’s attacks will be on highways and to gain control of some towns. This way, the Taliban may think that they will put pressure on Ghani to relinquish power. I predict we will witness a bloody spring,” he added.