At the July 7-8 talks in Doha, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization), backed by Qatar and the U.S., emerged victorious, extracting major advantages from Afghan delegates and the international community. A key Taliban advantage was that they held on to the Islamic Emirate’s long-standing position of not recognizing the elected government of Afghanistan as a legitimate entity. While the Afghan delegates, including those from the government, were forced to attend the talks in their personal capacity, the Taliban representatives came to the table as the Taliban.
As per a statement issued by Qatar, Dr. Mutlaq bin Majid Al-Qahtani, the Qatari Special Envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, announced the “success” of the talks, stating: “We are very pleased today to reach a joint statement as a first step to peace.” The “success” and the “first step to peace” which Al-Qahtani spoke of belong to the Taliban and shari’a, not to the democratic government in Kabul, not to Afghan women who suffered under the Taliban’s shari’a rule during the 1990s, and not to common Afghans whose civil liberties are at stake in Doha.
The Afghan Taliban – as a result of the Doha talks which were sponsored jointly by Qatar and Germany – marched closer to their stated objectives of enforcing Islamic shari’a rule in Afghanistan and of restructuring the Afghan government institutions, including the military, to their liking. As discussed below, the Taliban’s realization of their objectives at the Doha talks are clearly seen in four versions of the so-called joint statement agreed to, perhaps under the U.S. pressure, by the Afghan delegates.
Three Versions Of The Doha Agreement And The Taliban’s Own Version
At the official level, there are three versions of the joint statement (henceforth, Agreement) in Pashtu, Dari, and English. However, the Islamic Emirate also published a fourth version in Urdu on its official Urdu-language website. In Point 3 of the Agreement, the Urdu version inserts a sentence – which does not exist in the English version – noting that Afghans made sacrifices “so that all international, regional, and national parties [to the Afghan situation] should become respectful toward the great tenets of our millat [Islamic Ummah].”
The seventh round of the ongoing U.S.-Taliban negotiations were paused to accommodate the July 7-8 talks between the Taliban and the Afghan delegates. In Point 4-b, the English version says that the participants support the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and believe that “an effective and positive outcome from the negotiations will be fruitful for Afghanistan.” Contrary to this, the Urdu version says the participants believe that the U.S.-Taliban talks are an “effective and positive step toward ending the ongoing war thrust upon Afghanistan.”
The English version has nine points, with Point 4, Point 5, and Point 8 having respectively two, four, and eight sub-points. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, released the “unofficial translation” of the Agreement via Twitter and acknowledged in a tweet that there was “some confusion about translations…” In a tweet to Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan student of international relations expressed concern that the original Pashtu statement has “ten points.” In the Urdu version, Point 6 and Point 7 have been combined, making it an eight-point document.
The Doha Agreement – A Blueprint For Shari’a Rule
All the versions of the Agreement have some differing points. Point 6 of the English version assures Afghan women of their fundamental “rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs” of Afghanistan as per Islamic values. It does not “contain any reference to one of the key issues for the Taliban – their demand for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces…”
On the contrary, the Pashtu version of the Agreement includes “references to the withdrawal of foreign troops as part of the roadmap,” but it does “not include any reference to guarantees for women’s rights.” The Dari version, like the English one, includes “references to guaranteeing women’s rights,” but does “not mention the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.” Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Islamic Emirate’s Political Office in Doha, has said that the Pashtu version is the original. The Agreement is non-binding.
Since the Pashtu version does not talk of women’s rights, it leaves the Afghan Taliban ample space to implement their own view of what women’s rights are. The Urdu version, which is the Taliban’s official version published on their website, mentions “women’s rights” and “protection of the rights of religious minorities” in accordance with “Islamic principles.”
Both these rights are understood by jihadi groups differently from the way they are understood by democratic nations. For example, women’s rights mean segregation of women in offices, schools, colleges, and all other spheres of public and home life. Similarly, jihadi groups agree to the “protection of the rights of religious minorities” only in such situations when Islam is in power and minorities live as dhimmis, second-class citizens, and agree to pay jizya, a tax on non-Muslims.
In Doha, the Taliban did not agree to a long-standing demand from the Afghan government that they agree to a ceasefire for meaningful progress to be made in Afghanistan. However, in all versions, the parties are committed to “minimiz[ing] the civilian casualties to zero.” This is an important point, but it is also a surrender to the Taliban. Effectively, it means that the Islamic Emirate has declined to agree to any form of ceasefire.
This point also means that after the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, the Islamic Emirate will continue to fight against Afghan soldiers, as it does now. Also, the fact that the Islamic Emirate forced the delegates not to attend the event as representatives of the Afghan government means that the Taliban are unwilling to adopt a flexible approach on vital points. A day before the talks, the Islamic Emirate issued a statement in which it insisted that the Afghan delegates would participate “in their personal capacities.”
There are points indicating that the Taliban have won this round of the talks with the Afghan delegates. For example, Point 8-a of the English version of the agreement commits the parties to “institutionalizing [an] Islamic system in the country for the implementation of comprehensive peace” – effectively planting the seeds for shari’a rule in Afghanistan. In Point 2, the agreement talks of “Islamic sovereignty” for Afghan people. As per Point 8-d, the participants also agreed to “reform in the preservation of fundamental institutions, defensive [sic, defense] and other national entities” of Afghanistan, effectively demanding a restructuring of Afghan government institutions to suit the Taliban’s ideological objectives.
The Inclusion Of Moscow Declaration
In Point 9, the Agreement says: “We acknowledge and approve the recent resolution of intra-Afghan conference held on 5 and 6 Feb 2019 in Moscow.” So, the Doha Agreement incorporates the Moscow resolution. In Moscow, the Taliban delegation had refused to accept a woman as the head of the state of Afghanistan because Islam does not permit women to head a state. At that time, Fawzia Koofi, a female Afghan lawmaker who attended the Moscow conference, had welcomed the Taliban’s promise that “women would not be stripped of their rights and would be allowed to serve as prime minister — though not as president.”
The story does not end here. In the Islamic Emirate’s view, the actual peace process will start sometime later, the timing of which is unclear. For it, the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan delegates do not constitute the beginning of the peace process. In Moscow, the Taliban delegation had made this point clear, stating “before the beginning of the peace talks, some preliminary steps must be taken that are essential for peace.” This point from the Moscow talks is retained in the Doha Agreement.
It says the participants agree “on a roadmap for peace based on following conditions,” one of which, in Point 8-b, being the “Start of the peace process simultaneously with the accomplishment of all terms and conditions set forth.” While Al-Qahtani, the Qatari special envoy who announced the “success” in Doha, sees the Agreement as the “first step to peace,” the Islamic Emirate does not see it even as the “start” of the peace process in Afghanistan.
Two Mornings After The Doha Agreement
On July 10 – two days after the Doha Agreement – the Afghan Taliban returned to their usual tactics and accused the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani of supporting the Islamic State (ISIS), using U.S. private security firm Blackwater (now known as Academi) to kill civilians, and “trying to prolong the U.S. invasion” of Afghanistan. “The ground beneath the feet of Ashraf Ghani is shrinking not just militarily but also diplomatically [as a result of the Doha Agreement],” the Islamic Emirate wrote in a statement and celebrated the exclusion of the Afghan government from the Doha talks, saying: “The decision to not include the regime in the peace talks is a slap in the face to the regime leadership…”
Vowing to establish shari’a rule in Afghanistan, it wrote: “No matter what the puppet regime does, the stance of the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is clear which is to strive for the cause of Allah and to remove the rule of tyrants and overthrow the disbelief and ignorance and re-establish the rule of shari’a in Afghanistan which is the will of Afghan nation.” The Islamic Emirate especially singled out democracy as an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan, stating: “[I]t is not possible to escape from the physical barriers that the enemies have placed in our country… by embracing democracy.” It added: “The solution lies in the change of the cruel system [democracy] built by the occupiers.”
It reaffirmed commitment to jihad: “Military and political jihadi action is the effective remedy for demolishing the walls of the external occupiers and… [their] internal clients in Afghanistan.” It added: “Every Afghan knows that jihad against the current regime is the shortest and most correct way to change the situation.” The Doha Agreement shines for one outstanding point: it does not meet any demands by the Afghan government and the international community, while it becomes an instrument for the enforcement of the Taliban’s shari’a-based objectives in Afghanistan.
* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamization and Counter-Radicalization Initiative